Madeline and Hoku Bring Joy to Patient's Bedside

Daily visits by Hoku and Madeline, two volunteer canines with Palomar Paws Therapy Dog Program, were just what the doctor ordered for Neal DeGarmo last summer. As the result of a traumatic head injury, the 27-year-old Ramona man  spent more than six weeks in Palomar Medical Center West. 

“After the accident, my son had problems with cognition and remembering things,” says his mother, Debbie. “But, of all the things he did remember, he remembered the dogs visiting him in the hospital. He still remembers the comfort and love they brought him.”

The day of his brain surgery, Neal was nervous and frightened. To help ease his anxiety, Palomar Paws brought the dogs to visit Neal and even rode to the surgical room with him.

“It was a huge comfort to him. Neal just kept petting the dogs and it really helped him relax,” Debbie says. “The surgery and rehab were all a great success, and I attribute much of that success to the dogs being there for my son.”

There are currently  30 dogs volunteering with Palomar Paws Program. Cathy Mayer, a professional dog trainer and volunteer coordinator for the program, hopes to have 60 dogs enrolled in the hospital visitation program.

“The dog’s presence in the room is very calming. From itty-bitty dogs like Chihuahuas to big dogs like St. Bernards, they are petted and just hang out with patients and family,” Mayer says. “If it’s okay with the patient, the dogs can even get on the bed with them.”

Above: Cathy Mayer with Madeline and Gus.

When patients are admitted into the hospital, they are asked as part of the registration process, if they would like to have dog visitations.

Palomar Paws doesn't just help the patients, but it also assists dog owners who want their own pet to be a therapy dog. 

Mayer takes potential therapy dogs through a controlled evaluation at the hospital and if the dog passes the test, she helps the dog get certified with one of two national groups – Therapy Dogs International or Love on a Leash.

Volunteer Carol Orlando knows first-hand the joy and comfort her dog Button brings to patients.

“The difference the dog makes is like night and day. We walk in and (the patient) isn’t smiling or is looking sad. But as soon as they see Button, they’d light up. Pretty soon they’re telling me their own pet experience,” Carol says. “It’s so rewarding. And from the look on Button’s face, she loves it, too.”