Local | Pets

Dog therapy contributes to local senior’s post-op recovery

If “Jagger” evokes an image of the frenzied gyrations of the Rolling Stones lead singer, the Tucson dog bearing his name had an opposite, calming effect on 90-year-old Irving Silverman, who participated in dog therapy with Jagger at Tucson’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Irving Silverman with Jagger

Following surgery for a benign brain tumor at Boston’s Peter Brigham Hospital in 2009, Silverman spent a month engaged in aggressive physical and occupational therapy. The tumor had affected the left side of his body, leaving him with a non-functioning left arm and leg, but the therapies were helping Silverman recover some movement.

However, after returning to Tucson, Silverman suffered a setback from a fall on Jan. 5, breaking his right shoulder and further injuring his left arm. “For six and a half weeks my right arm was immobilized,” says Silverman. “I couldn’t do anything.”

Then he became an outpatient at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Maureen Flaherty, his occupational therapist at the outpatient neurological-rehabilitation program, had a “longtime ambition to bring together occupational therapy and being an amateur dog trainer. I wanted to bring my dog to work,” Flaherty told the AJP. Jagger, her three-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, has been trained to provide rehabilitation therapy with a health-care professional. “Dogs provide tremendous motivation to patients,” she says, which was certainly true for Silverman, who engaged in strengthening activities for his right arm by brushing and otherwise interacting with her dog.

Jagger was “instrumental in helping me regain the use of my right arm” by simply interacting with him, says Silverman. “Dog therapy is virtually responsible for me returning to my high-functioning self. Not only does it have physical benefits,” he says, “but emotional benefits as well. I believe that a dog senses who is a dog lover.”

“There is an increasing need for this kind of therapy,” says Flaherty. “Dogs are needed in all sorts of city institutions such as nursing homes, courts, halfway houses and schools.” In addition to well-trained dogs, she says, the process is dependent on dedicated volunteers. Flaherty started the Paws for Health program at St. Joseph’s, which pairs dogs with inpatients recovering from neurological and orthopedic injuries, hip and back surgery, and those who have multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.

To become a therapy animal/handler team, volunteers must first complete a recognized training program; dogs must then have a veterinary health check-up, as well as pass various temperament and skills tests, which must be renewed every two years by a certifying organization such as Delta Society: The Human-Animal Connection.

For more information, contact any of the following Tucson resources: Handi-Dogs, 326-3412 or www.handi-dogs.org; Delta Society, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ pet_partners_connection; Top Dog, 323-6677 or www.topdogusa.org; Jo Ann Spencer at barkley_here@yahoo.com; or Art Lipski, 609-4893 or alipski@GabrielsAngels.org; Jan Hutchinson, 425-6095 or jhutchinson@Gabriels Angels.org, or go online at www.GabrielsAngels.org.