Erin Manhardt is a 21-year-old Washington State University student who undergoes infusion therapy at Pullman Regional Hospital for fibromyalgia and chronic migraine headaches.
“The first time I went, I brought my best friend with me because it was going to take a long time,” Erin said of the three-hour session. “And I made a comment to the nurse that I wish my dog was here.”
Enter, not Erin's dog, but Enzo – a four-year-old mellow yellow Labrador retriever with an innate sense of calm and the trained ability to simply hang out.
“He just climbs up and sits on my lap,” Erin said. “He doesn't move. Sometimes he snores.”
Infusion therapy involves the administration of medicine through a needle or catheter. Erin, a senior kinesiology-psychology major at WSU, said she received intravenous doses of magnesium sulfate and injections of vitamin B-12 to combat her condition.
“It's not the most enjoyable experience to sit there for three hours and get infused,” she said. “So Enzo just kind of makes it fun, because I love big dogs.”
Enzo is one of several dogs teamed with handlers to make patient visits through the Pullman Regional Hospital Prescription Pets Program.
“He is a rescue dog that has a perfect temperament and disposition to be providing love and comfort for those in need,” said Kat Spilde of Viola, who along with Enzo's owner, Renee Piper of Troy, worked under the canopy of the national Pet Partners Program to create Palouse Paws with a Cause (companion dogs serving in multiple facilities throughout Whitman and Latah counties) and bring service and comfort dogs into the hospital scene through Prescription Pets.
“Enzo sits there and loves her and comforts her and provides her warmth,” Spilde said of the dog's time with Erin. “He takes away any kind of anxieties she has prior to getting her treatment.”
Erin said nurses took her blood pressure before and after Enzo came. “It was significantly lower when he was there.” She lauded the hospital for allowing dogs access to patients and confirmed that she's been feeling better since beginning the infusion therapy.
“He definitely calms me down,” Erin said. “Sometimes he doesn't want to get up and leave.”
All the dogs are registered with the national Pet Partners organization, formerly known as Delta Society. The program is linked here on the Palouse to one of its founders, the late Leo K. Bustad. A Washington State University professor of veterinary medicine, Bustad was recognized as one of the pioneers in the study of the human-animal bond, especially with dogs.
Spilde, who knew Bustad, credited PRH for further pioneering the introduction of animals into the health industry. “I think the hospital has really embraced the whole idea because their focus is about providing the best possible care to their patients,” she said. “A visit from a comfort animal isn't for everybody, but the hospital wants that to be an option for those it will help in their recovery.”
Erin said she now receives intramuscular injections, which take much less time, but Enzo still comes to the treatment sessions.
“He just makes me smile.”