Warm, cuddly therapist helps hospital patients

October 19, 1994|By Jill L. Kubatko | Jill L. Kubatko,Contributing Writer

Twelve-year-old Casey Moore sat outside an X-ray room at the Clinical Center at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda a few days after learning she had leukemia in July 1993.

"She was crying and said she just couldn't go through any more tests," said her mother, Linda Moore of Harrisburg, Pa.

At that moment, a German shepherd named Samantha came trotting down the hall with Wilde Lake village resident Jane Bartholomew, her owner and handler. The dog saw the patient in the wheelchair and placed her head on Casey's lap.

Since then, Samantha has been a constant presence in the girl's life. She has sat on her hospital bed, played catch with Casey and accompanied the youngster to many of her treatments, from bone marrow and blood tests to chemotherapy.

Samantha is a certified therapy dog and visits the Clinical Center four times a month with Mrs. Bartholomew, co-founder of National Capital Therapy Dogs.

Samantha's gentleness with Casey and hundreds of other patients at NIH during the past six years earned her national recognition as one of four dogs to receive a Delta Society, Pet Partners "Spirit of Jingles" award Saturday in New York.

The Delta Society, Pet Partners is made up of more than 1,100 volunteer teams nationwide. Membership in Pet Partners -- for dogs, cats rabbits and their owners -- includes training, screenings and workshops.

The only winner from Maryland, Samantha was chosen from about a thousand entries, said Mary Ann Crenshaw, a spokeswoman for the event.

Samantha was given a medallion and a Pet Partners harness/jacket for the "Service to Individuals Award" at a luncheon at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers. Mrs. Bartholomew received a framed certificate.

Casey and her parents took a train to New York to take part in the ceremonies.

"Casey led Samantha to the stage and I was with them," said Mrs. Bartholomew. "She was very excited to see Casey. They were kissing and hugging on each other.

"I am very, very proud of Samantha. My husband, Tom, says I should also be proud. But, she totally deserves it."

National Capital Therapy Dogs is a 6-year old organization serving Baltimore-Washington health care facilities and provides training for both dogs and handlers. The volunteer group has 45 dogs, each with its own handler. Holly Parker, a recreation

therapist and coordinator for the Animal Assisted Therapy program at NIH, said she and the staff are proud of "Sam."

"I think Casey responded more to Samantha than any other therapy we tried. We had tried to motivate Casey and get her out of bed. Samantha visited four times a month and we saw a great improvement," she said.

Casey, now 13, and her mother, wrote letters to the Delta Society as part of the nomination process. Casey's hand-written letter stressed the depression she felt after being told of her illness and during her long hospital stays.

"I went from a child of laughter and joy to a depressed, just-leave-me-alone child," she wrote.

"But that all changed. The day I met Samantha and Jane, I was supposed to have a test done. I was very upset, but all that changed when I suddenly had a German shepherd licking the tears off my face. I was overjoyed and immediately loved the dog and that, in her own way, she was trying to take the pain and anger away."

Samantha was adopted by the Bartholomews eight years ago from Howard County Animal Control.

"She was thrown out as a 7-week old puppy. We got her at the legal adoption age of 8 weeks," said Mrs. Bartholomew.

Since then, she has been obedience trained and earned Companion Dog certification, as well as certification as a therapy dog.

Samantha and Mrs. Bartholomew see an average of 10 to 20 patients during each visit to the Clinical Center. Some days, one-on-one visits are the norm and on other days, group settings may be scheduled.

"She is very gentle with children, even though they are strangers," said Mrs. Moore. "Samantha doesn't become spooked by the alarms that may sound from an IV pump and she threads her way around the IV lines so as not to hurt or move Casey," she said.

Mrs. Bartholomew said volunteering with Samantha has helped her work through her grief over her father's death from cancer 16 years ago.

"I know what kind of suffering he went through. To me, volunteering is a way of giving back. Sam brings joy and happiness to children. She relieves them of their pain and they have a chance to interact with something warm and cuddly," Mrs. Bartholomew said.

The all-expense trip to New York for Samantha included a bulkhead seat in the USAir plane, a limo ride from the airport and three nights in a hotel room.

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