2017-05-23 / Front Page

A pleasant doggy 'hello'

Livy elicits smiles and pats at cancer center
Senior Staff Writer

SANFORD — Somehow, Livy just knows when you’re up for a doggy “hello,” and when another day might be better.

It is something she is good at, just naturally.  Add some training to those built-in qualities, and well, you’ve got a darn nice therapy dog.

“She’s very intuitive,” said her owner, Sue Walsh, and will approach  cautiously if she senses a hesitation.

Livy has been trained to be on her best behavior the first time she meets someone, or when greeting an old friend, and is registered as a therapy dog through the national organization  Pet Partners.

Walsh has been with Pet Partners for about 20 years and Livy is her fourth therapy dog. Walsh is a dog obedience instructor, and Livy attended those trainings beginning when she was just 16 weeks old so, it all worked very well.

Mostly said Walsh, Pet Partners looks for animals with a good temperament — and Livy fit the bill.

On Mondays, she sees folks at the Cancer Care Center of York County, sitting quietly in the waiting room, as patients and caregivers come and go.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, schoolchildren in Effingham, New Hampshire and Acton read to Livy — it helps improve their skills, said Walsh.

 At the cancer center, someone might be a patient waiting for a radiation treatment, or a friend or spouse, waiting while a patient undergoes treatment. If you’re sitting, and look like you might be approachable, Livy saunters over and waits for a pat. If encouraged,  she’ll place her paws on your knee and stand up tall. Her spiky little tail never stops wagging.

Earlier this week,  she was at it again: When invited,  she placed her paws on patient Lynne Vaughan’s knee, and was warmly admired and patted.

She’s been a Monday fixture at the Cancer Care Center of York County since the spring, after first being invited in for an interview, said Walsh. Then, Livy’s weekly presence began as a pilot project, and since that proved to work out well, she’s  now a fixture at the center.

She elicits conversation at the cancer center, as she did on a recent day.

“What I really find is (folks) start talking to the dog, and the conversation happens,” said Walsh. “(She) opens the conversation.”

The conversation might be about any number of topics - on  Monday three or four people were chatting  about  keeping guinea fowl.

Other times, it cam be more about the topic at hand — cancer. One man recently shared that he was marking his final treatment on a particular day.

Karen Pierce-Stewart, the cancer care center director, said the program was sparked by Meghan Morash, a former patient advocate at CCCYC, who felt it blended with the center’s mission of caring for the whole person.

“Picture your typical treatment center waiting room: You’ll see a few people talking to each other, maybe a few people reading, a lot of people looking at their phones,  and some just quietly waiting," said Pierce-Stewart.

Now, there's Livy, sparking converstion with each wag of her  tail.

Pierce- Stewart pointed to a recent online Mayo Clinic article that spoke to animal therapy  in general, and its ability to reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems.

Livy, who recently marked her 100th visit as a pet therapy dog, is taking Monday off for Memorial Day, but will be back at the Cancer Care Center of York County on June 5. Woof, woof.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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