Therapy Dogs Excellent For Cancer Patients

The two elderly retrievers were walked home thanks to information on their tags. Courtesy photo

A white dog with spots did not have tags but was successfully reunited with his owner. Courtesy photo

Los Alamos Daily Post

I really should carry a leash in my walking pack.

At least every other weekend my training walks have been interrupted by a dog running loose without its owner. So far I have encountered seven or eight dogs while training.

I figure that it’s some sort of karma for the number of times my Husky Bayley escaped and ran amuck on North Mesa. People got so used to him being on the lam that they would call me anytime they encountered a stray blonde Husky.

On a training walk, if I come across one of the furry little escapees, I do my best to catch the miscreant and check its’ tags. I either call the owner, walk the pup home, or post its picture on Facebook if there’s no number or address. So far I haven’t had to turn one over to animal control.

Cyndi Wells at Pet Pangaea has a page on her website for posting lost/found animals. There’s also a Facebook page dedicated to dog owners
Dogs are frequently used as palliative care for cancer patients. Some cancer clinics even have them on staff.

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, it is important patients meet certain health criteria and are cleared by their oncologist to receive what they call Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Dogs are most commonly therapy pets, although other domesticated pets and farm animals have been used in some circumstances.

I used to know a woman in Colorado who had a therapy Llama, which she took to senior centers.

Therapy dogs are trained and certified to work with patients. They are evaluated for temperament, behavior and response to assistance equipment (wheelchairs and crutches). The pups must be outgoing and friendly, and respond calmly under stress. Proper certification and training can take up to a year; it’s not just a quick fee payment on the internet to buy a vest.

Pet therapy uses dogs and other animals to help people cope with health problems, including cancer. A visit from a certified therapy pet may comfort patients (and their family members) through distraction from pain and discomfort. Studies have shown pet therapy reduces stress, improves mood and energy levels, and decreases perceived pain and anxiety. It may also provide a sense of companionship that combats feelings of isolation.

A study of head and neck cancer patients at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York found that despite their physical well-being deteriorating during chemotherapy, patients who spent time with a therapy dog before each treatment reported an increase in their emotional and social well-being.

Numerous studies have found dogs have cardiovascular benefits for humans.

A study by Allen, Blascovitch and Mendes, published in Psychosomatic Medicine found “Relative to people without pets, people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels during a resting baseline, significantly smaller increases (ie, reactivity) from baseline levels during the mental arithmetic and cold pressor, and faster recovery. Among pet owners, the lowest reactivity and quickest recovery was observed in the pet-present conditions.”

Dogs have also been used experimentally in diagnosing cancer. Our furry friends can recognize smell up to 1,000 times more accurately than humans.  In multiple laboratory studies, dogs have been able to detect certain cancers by smelling breath or urine samples.

Medical Detection Dogs (based in Britain) had eight dogs sniff out 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients to see whether they could discern who has cancer and who doesn’t.

In one study, a Labrador retriever trained in cancer scent detection correctly identified 91 percent of breath samples and 97 percent of stool samples from patients with colon cancer. In another study, a German shepherd identified ovarian cancer malignancies form tissue samples with 90 percent accuracy.  

Unfortunately, medicine is a money-driven machine. The commercial application of dogs detecting cancer does not pencil out financially for companies that make millions off of lab tests. Why pay the medical lab thousands of dollars, when you can get checked for cancer for free at the local dog park?

About the author: Nancy Partridge is a native of Los Alamos. She learned to walk about a year after being born at Los Alamos Medical Center.

The American Cancer Society Los Alamos Relay for Life is Saturday at the Canyon Rim Trail. To register go to; or if you are interested in donating funds for breast cancer research and treatment go to: (Susan G Komen 3-Day 60-mile walk in Seattle Sept. 14 – 17); or (Avon & American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in Santa Fe on Oct. 6.

A very small, fluffy white dog runs down the middle of Meadow Lane in White Rock. According to posts on Facebook, the dog was caught and returned to its home. Courtesy photo