Rottweiler cousins light up a hospital room without saying a word


Visiting the hospital is probably not on your top ten list of things to get pumped up for, but then again you’re probably nothing like Vinca and Prima, cousins who make a habit of doing the unexpected.

Palomar Medical Center Escondido patient Sandy Zielinski told Vinca and Prima during their visit to her in room 697, “you’re the best, you’re the only kind of medicine I need,” as she demanded more “kisses, I need kisses.”

The fact is Sandy is not even related to Vinca and Prima, they just met.

Down the hall Palomar Health Registered Nurse Megan O’Regan stopped Vinca and Prima in their tracks to get some love.

“I love them every single time they come,” O’Regan said. “I wish they could come every day. It completely brightens the patient’s day. It’s my favorite part of the day.”

As Vinca and Prima continued their patient rounds, Registered Nurse Kim Kincaide said, “I love everything about them. I could do this (rub Vinca’s back) all day.”

What’s Vinca and Prima’s secret to lighting up a room… without even speaking a word?

They’re dogs. But not just any dogs. They’re Rottweilers, not the kind of breed known as cute and cuddly therapy dogs.

That’s the point for their owner and Palomar Health volunteer Cathy Schulte. She has a special affinity for Rottweilers as a breeder for 30 years. She brings Vinca and Prima to Palomar Medical Center Escondido several times a month for the express purpose of dispelling some of the negative myths about the breed.

“It’s a wonderful breed and I wanted to give back to the community,” Schulte said. “I wanted them to see how incredible these guys really could be. We felt like the hospital setting was perfect for that.”

Schulte, Vinca, and Prima are one of 26 human-dog teams that make up the Palomar Paws program, operating since the hospital opened in 2012. The volunteer teams go through extensive training, following the Love on a Leash standards, before they are certified and receive their own hospital badges.

Good dog candidates, according to Palomar Paws volunteer coordinator Cathy Mayer, are obedient and loving. Humans must be good with people.

“You’re looking for teamwork,” Mayer said. “You’re looking for a dog that wants to do it and a human that wants to do it.”

In Vinca and Prima’s case, they show a real passion for the job.

“When I put my therapy clothes on they know it’s time to go to the hospital and they get all excited,” Schulte said. “They run to the car.”

Visits last about an hour and can include 5-10 patient visits. Patients sign up for visits each morning. Palomar Paws is recruiting more teams, with a goal of doubling the number of teams to 50 by the end of next year.

“If I had a goal, it would be to have one dog on every floor every day on all of our properties,” Mayer said.

It’s a sight to behold watching Vinca and Prima do their thing. Patient’s faces light up, nurses faces light up, even trauma room doctors, who especially appreciate the opportunity for stress relief.

The interactions have healthy benefits for both humans and dogs as Schulte says research shows when you’re petting a dog “you’re blood pressure goes down and the dog’s blood pressure goes down.”

It doesn’t take much research to see the value in Vinca and Prima’s visit to patient Sandy Zielinski as she looked into their eyes and said, “You’re not leaving… tell them (humans) to go walk the halls.”

Photo  One Caption:  Palomar Paws therapy dogs Vinca and Prima visit patient Sandy Zielinski, much to her delight.

Photo  Two Caption:  Palomar Health Registered Nurse Megan O’Regan with the therapy dogs.

Photo Three Caption: Palomar Health  Registered Nurse Kim Kincaide with the therapy dogs.

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