New cancer therapy has four legs. And a tail?

Jennifer Dahn can light a room with her smile and enthusiasm for helping others. But it’s her four-legged companions that really help heal hurting hearts in central Illinois. Comfort dogs like Eli or Payton go through extensive training to ensure they are prepared to ‘rub noses’ with patients big and small.

Beginning Friday, Carle Cancer Center patients will have the chance to experience pet therapy from area organizers. Pet therapy boasts numerous benefits including reducing stress, tension and anxiety. 

“Cancer Centers across the county have seen the benefits their patients receive from pet therapy. As we continue to look for ways to provide even higher-quality care to our patients, we feel pet therapy will be an added benefit,” Kimberly Harden, LCSW, said.

Furry friends will greet patients weekly in the library in the lobby of the Mills Breast Cancer Institute. Pet therapy will rotate days of the week to give as many patients as possible the opportunity to engage.

Joe Nicholas from Urbana is looking forward to having pets around. The proud owner of Tigger, a German Shepherd who passed away, is grateful for the opportunity to see animals.

Tigger wasn’t allowed in the bedroom at home, but Nicholas welcomed pet therapy bed buddies while he was hospitalized for his treatments.

Three years ago, Nicholas began treatments for a salivary gland tumor. He had surgery to remove it but the cancer had already spread to his lungs. He’s undergone the maximum amount of radiation and has started chemotherapy. Most days he feels good but sometimes pain prevents him from getting as much exercise as he’d like.

Nicholas experienced pet therapy during inpatient rehab and at the annual cancer survivors’ retreat.

“I’m happy to have them. They hop up on the bed and provide a diversion. I see them coming down the hall, and I’m disappointed if I don’t get a few minutes with them,” he said.

Harden said there is often concern and worry when coming for an oncology visit or treatment, so spending time with the pet therapy dogs allows patients to focus on something else.

Cancer Center staff is working with numerous local pet therapy groups that are active in other areas of the hospital.

For years, Carle’s Pediatric and Therapy Services/Rehabilitation areas welcomed furry friends to make hospital stays more pleasant. Thanks to glowing praise and positive results, the inpatient pet therapy program now boosts patients’ spirits in nearly all parts of the hospital including seeing patients coping with stroke, heart disease, cancer and other life-changers.

“When I walk in with a dog, the mood immediately changes. I’m so blessed to offer peace and comfort to people when their world is spinning around them” Dahn said.