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April 17, 2014

Fair, 37 °FFair

Betty White is officially a TN Volunteer!

A few months back, Knoxify published an article about my fur-kid’s desire to integrate into her new hometown. Then I completely forgot to write the follow-up about her reaching that objective. So here we go!

Since September, Betty White has been participating in UT’s amazing HABIT (Human Animal Bond in Tennessee) program.

  • Quick recap from my previous article: HABIT trains dogs (and their humans) for animal-assisted activities (AAA) and animal-assisted therapy (AAT). This includes visiting schools (kids feel more comfortable reading to the dogs and the dogs think they’re getting attention – adorable!), nursing homes, retirement centers, mental health facilities, youth rehab centers and hospice programs. Dog-lovers can attest to the healing powers of playing with a sweet furball, but research shows that AAA and AAT can decrease emotional/physical pain, improve confidence/socialization and reduce anxiety.

Every Friday morning, Betty White visits patients at the Cancer Institute and the oncology floor at UT Hospital. We take a lap through the Institute’s waiting room before heading into the chemotherapy room. The set-up is pretty comfortable: recliners line the parameter of the room and nurses offer drinks and snacks. Patients read, watch TV, visit with nurses and/or sleep while they receive their treatment. The process can take hours so having a pup visit helps break up the monotony. We then trek across the hospital (where we ‘re stopped at least a dozen times by folks astonished and pleased to see a dog) to the oncology floor where folks are in beds in private rooms.

She typically visits with about 40-50 people each week. The interaction varies – some folks are confused why she’s there…and then light up when I say she’s there for whoever needs a “puppy fix.” Some want to talk about their pets or their treatment or their kids or how their day is going…and many talk to her directly/exclusively. Some want her in their laps, and some just need a quick hug before sending her on to the next patient. Every now and then you encounter someone who doesn’t like dogs, but the folks who shriek or ooh/ahh at the site of her quickly overshadows them.

Betty White with Chemo Bear (the Cancer Institute's mascot)

The focus is really (and rightly) on Betty White. She’s the star of the show – I’m merely the chauffer and human on the end of the leash. What’s amazing is that she always knows exactly how to act – gentle around tubes and machines…gives kids kisses…and curls up and falls asleep on hospital beds as if she were at home on her favorite couch. She’s fallen in love with one lady in particular – Miss Minnie – who we see at the Institute every other Friday. Without fail, Betty White makes a beeline for her, hops in her lap and proceeds to snore for about 20 minutes before I force her to move on.

The time commitment is minimal (approximately one hour/week), and the reward is beyond expectation. Betty White is bringing joy and comfort – even if it’s for five minutes – to someone’s day … and she knows it. It’s really made her more confident and social (she came from the shelter pretty skittish towards strangers). And when I tell her we’re “going to work,” she goes nuts!

There’s no one-size-fits all model. Some of the “craziest” dogs make the best HABIT workers, while some of the most laidback pups get depressed or stressed out from the work. Betty White probably wouldn’t do well with their reading program (she loves kids and she’d just want to play with them the entire time), but she does great in hospitals (largely because machines, wheelchairs and loud noises don’t phase her).

I’d encourage everyone to check out HABIT and attend their next orientation session on April 21!

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  • http://www.ackermannpr.com Shane Rhyne

    I’m so glad to hear that you and Betty White are having a great time with HABIT. I’m an official HABIT Honey (we are a select and limited group – the two husbands of the HABIT staff, who are called upon to lift heavy things and help set up at events), so I’ll probably see you soon at an event.

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