Magazine article USA TODAY

Four-Legged "Therapist." (Use of Dog in Rehabilitation Therapy for Trauma Patients) (Special Newsletter Edition: Your Health)

Magazine article USA TODAY

Four-Legged "Therapist." (Use of Dog in Rehabilitation Therapy for Trauma Patients) (Special Newsletter Edition: Your Health)

Article excerpt

Emily wasn't responding, and the therapists at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose, Calif., were perplexed. They knew that the tiny girl, who suffered from severe head trauma, could walk again, but she refused to try. Nor would she attempt to use her hands. Worst of all, she was so hypersensitive that the slightest touch by any physician or nurse--even a faint noise--would trigger uncontrollable screaming outbreaks.

One day, Emily looked up from her bed into some friendly brown eyes and, almost miraculously, began to show progress toward recovery. Today, she is an outpatient. Each time she returns to VMC, she insists on seeing her new friend, who also has a wet nose and a waggly tail, answers to the name of Elwood, and is a four-year-old Labrador retriever.

Elwood serves many functions for the center. In the case of Emily, according to Lynn Roulette, the occupational therapist who serves as his guardian, "She started using her hands, then we got her to stand up and brush him, pet him, and throw the ball for him. We got her to get up close to him and his different textures desensitized her. Eventually, we worked outside to the patio and the noise didn't bother her as much. Elwood's barking (which he does only on command) helped."

Attending clinics with Roulette and constantly "on call" to adoring patients, Elwood is so busy that he wears a sign that says, "Please don't pet me, I'm working." He performs about 70 tasks. Turning light switches off and on, opening and closing doors, assisting patients up and down stairs by ensuring that he is in position to break their fall, and picking up dropped objects are second nature to him now. …

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