- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - There are few things that can distract Dewight Blanton during hours-long treatments of chemotherapy at the Norton Cancer Institute clinic in Jeffersonville. Television and books help pass the time and meals break up what is sometimes up to seven hours of treatment. But it was an unexpected visit from Cooper, a 5-year-old goldendoodle, that lifted Blanton’s spirits Oct. 18.

“I think it just makes you forget about the situation you’re in for a little while, and especially if you’re a dog person,” Blanton said. “He’s really soft too.”

Cooper and his owner, David Eib, have been visiting patients at area hospitals for about five years, but they just recently added the Norton Cancer Institute near Clark Memorial Hospital to their list of stops. Oct. 18 was Cooper’s second visit and he’ll be back on the first Tuesday of every month.

Eib bought Cooper the day he retired in April 2011. His wife had suffered a brain injury two years prior and the couple discovered just how therapeutic animals can be. A dog visited Eib’s wife while she was in Southern Indiana Rehab Hospital and Eib saw it made a difference.

“And each time the dog came to visit her she got a little bit better, to the point that she was actually able to move into rehab and then finally back home,” he said. “So once I retired we decided this is what we’re going to do and so we got him (Cooper) and been doing this ever since.”

Eib volunteers with Kentucky-based W.A.G.S., or Wonderful Animals Giving Support. The non-profit organization was founded in 1999 by Linda Laun and aims to connect pets with people in need of companionship and therapy. Eib said there are around 90 volunteer teams that visit hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and libraries. Eib contacted the Norton Cancer Institute clinic in Jeffersonville in anticipation of bridge tolls. He mostly volunteers in Louisville but lives in New Albany.

According to a news release from Norton, studies have shown that pets can lower stress levels, improve mood, decrease the need for pain medications and improve a patient’s perception of their health. Beverly Spindler, a registered nurse and Norton office manager, sees the benefits firsthand.

“I see a lot of smiles. I see that it helps patients relax a little more through their treatments,” Spindler said.

People with varying cancer diagnoses visit Norton for oncology and hematology treatments. For some, their cancer is chronic-like, while others are on the road to recovery. Blanton was on his third chemo treatment after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. He’s been getting treatment for about six weeks.

“Any time we can ease anxiety, that is a great benefit for our patients,” Spindler said. “Because anytime you’re under stress and anxiety it releases chemicals that aren’t healing, so when you have an opportunity to do something that relaxes you, you have an opportunity to release some good endorphins, good chemicals to help you heal.”

Cooper and Eib walk the halls looking for new faces or familiar friends to visit. Cooper happily greets patients, especially when they have a broccoli floret or a grape, the treats Eib packs for him. When Eib and a patient start talking golf or work, Cooper plops down at Eib’s feet, waiting patiently to walk to the next room.

Eib remembers a 90-something-year-old man with dementia that he and Cooper visited regularly for two years in Louisville. The man always wanted Cooper to sit in his lap, but Cooper could never get comfortable enough to stay. So one day Eib sat on the man’s couch, had Cooper lay next to him and told the man to sit on the other end. The man started rubbing Cooper’s neck as they watched animal planet. When EIb looked over, Cooper and the man were both peacefully sleeping. The man since died, but Eib keep in touch with his son. The son told Eib how much his father talked about Cooper.

“He always lightened up when Cooper was there,” the son would say.

The patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from Cooper’s wagging tail and soft coat of fur. As Eib and Cooper walk the halls of the clinic, nurses and lab techs stop to pet him. Smiles spread across workers’ faces as Cooper stands on his hind legs to peek over the counter. Spindler, the office manager, said Cooper opens the staff up and makes them more giving than they already are.

Venus Robinson, a medical lab tech, stopped Cooper in the hall. She bent down and petted his head for less than a minute, but it was enough to brighten her hectic morning.

“It was a pick me up, made me smile,” she said.

Eib gets a lot out of the visits, too. Like Cooper, Eib socializes with the staff and patients. And as a retiree, Cooper keeps him out of the house.

“I get to see people each day. I’m not at home sitting on the porch watching time go by,” Eib said. “And I enjoy being with the dog.”

Cooper and Eib might be doing more than inspiring smiles. Blanton said the visit got his wheels turning about how he could do what Eib does one day.

“It even kind of sparks your interest in doing something like that,” he said. “It does mine anyway.”

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Source: (Jeffersonville/New Albany) News and Tribune, http://bit.ly/2dGq65T

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com

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