Diabetes and Animal Therapy

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro April 06, 2012
  • I have always loved dogs. I knew I was destined to work with little creatures (in my case-the human kind) when I had my first real job at 9 years of age. Back in the 1960s, many doctors and dentists saw patients in their homes and my dentist was no exception. Inside the home of Dr. C was a miniature poodle named Pepi who always managed to escape due to the constant opening and closing of doors at the office. He was very devious and would run around the neighborhood and only return home at his discretion. For some unknown reason, whenever I would call Pepi, he would instantly run to my side from wherever he was roaming and I would bring him home earning 25 cents per Pepi return!

     

    My parents would not allow a pet in our home and therefore I always longed to have one of my own. When my son turned 9, we finally welcomed a Pembroke Welsh corgi (not related to the queen of England's Pembroke collection) who shared our home for 10 years and passed away in 2004. Now, I can be a potential road hazard because I stop to chat with passing Pembrokes.

     

    Enter Murphy, a bichon frise, owned by one of my colleagues (a psychologist) who works with me in Washington, DC. Murphy is a therapy dog and accompanies my colleague to work every day and provides additional therapy for her patients free of charge! He is fully trained and pet therapy certified. He even has a Children's National ID card that says Murphy, Dept of Psychology. Although Murphy's primary job is to help my colleague care for her patients, sometimes he helps children and adolescents in my diabetes practice by helping with phlebotomies and cheering them up! My colleague contacted her Bichon breeder (Ptbreeze bichons) in Richmond, Va., to find out if there were any puppies that had therapy potential and that her friend and colleague might be interested if one such special puppy became available. That special puppy became available two weeks ago and will be joining the Cogen household tomorrow! I had little advanced warning, but decided that should one of these delightful creatures become available, I would jump at the chance to train one to become an adjunct to my diabetes practice. The purpose would be two fold. One, children/adolescents (and adults) relax in the presence of animals. This has been demonstrated by evidence-based literature. As a result of this ability to make people comfortable, I believe more can be done within the confines of an office visit. Second, I would certainly enjoy and delight in the background of a therapy dog's healing presence!

     

    Enter, Knickers!

     

    Knickers is Murphy's cousin and has all of the traits that has so endeared Murphy to his patients. Knickers was the runt of his litter and the owner had to hand-feed him for several weeks. Apparently his disposition is perfect for my purposes, as was demonstrated in person last week when I went to Richmond to meet him. Within the coming months, Knickers will be going to school to become a certified therapy doggie. After he graduates I hope to bring him to my outpatient clinics to assist me in caring for my children and adolescents with diabetes. He is hypoallergenic, which is very helpful in these situations. People who have animal anxiety need not worry because Knickers' carrier will always available to put him away from the family if needed. In addition to the qualitative aspect of Knickers' ability to assist in patient care, I also am interested in quantitative evidence-based research in terms of glycemic control. Will Knickers be able to help my children and adolescents with diabetes improve diabetes care-related skills and lower hemoglobin A1c?

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    I am looking forward to the conclusion of Knickers' education and introducing him to my patients and families! I will keep you posted!