Tag Archives: Therapy Dogs

Vanderbilt University Leads Pet Therapy Research for Childhood Cancer

Help us give back to this worthy cause in this week’s Tail of Good.


Every year over 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer. And for kids dealing with the struggle of disease, stress, anxiety and depression are often unwanted side effects. As a way to combat the emotional suffering, Vanderbilt University is working to prove that furry friends can benefit the wellbeing of these patients.


This research program stems from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. It is designed to match children 3 to 17 years old with a volunteer therapy dog. These dogs live in the nearby area, and their parents donate their time at the clinic. Each time a child arrives at the clinic for chemotherapy, his or her “match” is also there, ready for a 15-minute designated play and cuddle session. The research is meant to dig into how therapy dogs can aid as a credible nursing service. Mary Jo Gilmer, a Vanderbilt Professor and Nurse Researcher, says, “we all want to think that pet therapy helps, but we need the evidence to back that up, to see if it is a sound treatment option for patients and their families.”


One patient, Bryce, is five years old and frequents Vanderbilt’s Hospital for chemo treatments to battle his Leukemia. When Bryce first began his treatments, he was nervous, scared and stressed. That’s when he was paired with Swoosh, a toy Pomeranian that now visits Bryce every week to help him relax. Bryce is then surveyed after his time spent with Swoosh to monitor his progress. He now smiles, seems more at ease and says he is “not scared at all.” “We’re trying to decrease the stress and anxiety, and increase the quality of life for children from the time they are diagnosed with cancer through treatment,” says Gilmer.


Gilmer hopes to have preliminary results this summer to help shine more light on the bond shared between people and animals.


At Freshpet, we strongly believe in the emotional benefits that pets bring to us each day. We’re thrilled to help support this research and hope that the findings will help to spread pet therapy programs to hospitals and clinics across the country. And the best part is that you can help!


As part of our #FreshDance Challenge for wellness, we will make a donation to Vanderbilt’s Pet Therapy Research Program for every entry we receive. And, our friends at BarkPost have generously offered to match our donation. So, send in your #FreshDance submission by Friday, 11/21 at midnight EST at freshpet.com/dance.


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Meet the Dogs, Ace and Deuce

Golden retriever dog meets yellow lab puppy - picture of golden retriever and lab puppy

Ace, Kristen and Deuce on Deuce’s Adoption Day. (Don’t worry. Ace warmed up to him quickly!)

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you’re more interested in pets than people. So, meet my guys, Ace and Deuce.

Ace was a golden retriever we adopted from a shelter when he was just 8 weeks old. A certified therapy dog who visited hospice patients, he was our practice baby, a much-loved hospital volunteer and my firstborn child…just the best boy. Sadly, he was diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 6, then he fought the cancer for 10 months. He died in May 2011. He was just 7.

When we learned that Ace was dying we thought we’d adopt another puppy, and we just had to call him Deuce. Though Deuce will never replace Ace, we’re not the same without a dog and we hoped it would make the loss a bit more manageable. Eventually I would need a new therapy partner and I wanted to start training the puppy as I had trained Ace.

Deuce the Lab puppy - lab puppy picture at 10 months old

Deuce (at 10 months old and 60 pounds) proves that dogs really do bury bones…not just in cartoons!

When Deuce came home (from a high-kill shelter in Georgia) he was 10 weeks old and weighed 4.8 pounds. We called him the Teacup Labrador. He was the smallest puppy in the litter, probably because he had several parasites hitching rides in his coat and his belly. With lots of TLC, several visits to the vet, and consistent, loving training he’s become a cherished member of the family. Fortunately he had Ace, who was always polite and well mannered, to teach him the ropes.

Deucey is almost 1 now and he’s a 65-pound handful. He eats Freshpet puppy food — and shoes. He gets into trouble in two shakes of a puppy’s tail. This week’s casualties include one pair of my sandals, numerous rope dog toys (his favorite to shred) and several action figures, toy train cars and stuffed animals. Hopefully, Deuce will chill out enough to pass his therapy-dog evaluation in a year or so. (Or two years. Or nine. Fingers crossed.)

Deuce loves to come to work with me at Freshpet. He has his own bed and dozens of refrigerators filled with healthy, fresh dog food. It’s doggie Nirvana! Now I just have to teach him not to mount the CEO’s leg.

I must say he’s smart as a whip and he picks up tricks and commands immediately. He’s strong as an ox and likes to prove it on our walks, but we’re working on that every day. He has mastered the sit, stay, wait, down and leave-it commands and he sleeps through the night and rings a bell to go out. I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

He’s a cute little bugger, don’t you think?