Therapy dog brings smiles to UTMC cancer patients

October 2, 2014 | Features, UToday, UT Health
By Aimee Portala



Two-time cancer survivor Jane Ann Zeigler-Wentz ended up at The University of Toledo Medical Center during her second bout with cancer in 2011.

Porshia, the therapy dog, relaxed in the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center before she visited patients.

Porshia, the therapy dog, relaxed in the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center before she visited patients.

“I received wonderful care while at UTMC. I ended up having to spend a few months in a nursing home for rehab, and I missed my dogs. I knew therapy dogs are beneficial to recovery, which got me thinking,” Zeigler-Wentz said.

When Zeigler-Wentz found out her two poodles were unable to pass certification tests, she started researching which breeds would be most suitable for therapy dog training. Her research led her to Porshia, a multi-generation Australian Labradoodle.

Porshia is certified through Therapy Dogs International (TDI), the oldest and largest therapy dog organization in the United States. As of 2012, more than 24,000 dogs and their handlers are registered with TDI.

“Porshia is intelligent, intuitive and well-behaved,” Zeigler-Wentz said.

She and Porshia have been going through formal training since the Australian Labradoodle was 10 weeks old, and continue to go once a week to ensure the canine maintains her well obtained skill set.

Multiple doctors advocated for the addition of therapy dog visits to aid patients in their treatment and healing process. Zeigler-Wentz and Porshia visit UTMC’s Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center on Wednesday afternoons.

Porshia greeted patient Tricia Maassel, who was happy to see her four-legged friend.

Porshia greeted patient Tricia Maassel, who was happy to see her four-legged friend.

“The response has been phenomenal. Not only am I proud of Porshia, but of the patients for being so open,” Zeigler-Wentz said. “My goal was to get involved with UTMC because of the wonderful care I received. We are happy to be working with the Dana Cancer Center and are grateful for their trust and support.”

Patients are asked if they are comfortable having a therapy dog visit. A bone or paw symbol is placed by the patient’s name on his or her room number to indicate that Porshia is welcome.

Research has shown therapy dog visits have many benefits, including lowering blood pressure, decreasing pain and the need for pain medication, relieving anxiety, and lessening the symptoms of depression. It’s been found that therapy dog visits not only help those with physical and emotional needs, but also appear to benefit the patient’s family, as well as the clinical staff.

“The caregivers and staff love Porshia. We aren’t just here for the benefit of the patients, but for those joining a family member or friend during treatment and, of course, the nurses and administrative staff,” Zeigler-Wentz said.

Zeigler-Wentz and Porshia were introduced to a young girl in the lobby, who was looking forward to meeting them.

“Children younger than 16 are not allowed beyond the lobby, and this little girl was excited to spend time with Porshia,” Zeigler-Wentz said. “They sat together while the girl talked and colored. We try to coordinate a time to visit with her while she waits.”

Zeigler-Wentz added, “There is so much love in Porshia’s eyes, it’s like she can see right to your soul. We are blessed to have such an incredible dog.”

She and Porshia are planning on participating in specialized training to certify both of them for emergency response and disaster relief situations. Porshia has received hours of sound training, which has accustomed her to loud noises such as sirens, ambulances and overhead announcements, which will give her a head start above other dogs when she enrolls in this advanced certification.

“We are happy to give back and serve in any way we can,” Zeigler-Wentz said. “Our main passion is to give light in a dark world. Cancer is often a difficult and dark place to be.”