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Therapy dog's mission is to brighten days in burn center

Sometimes the best medicine is not actually medicine at all. A smile or just a hug can help make all the difference in someone's recovery.

SAN ANTONIO — They call it “Project Woof,” and today, Sammy is in charge of the halls at the Institute of Surgical Research (ISR) Burn Center.

Instead of barking orders, however, this seven-year old Collie mix is here to brighten up the day.

“Just having that break in the day where people say, 'hey, it's a dog,'” Sammy’s handler and Clinical Pharmacist Kaitlin Purskowski said. “In the hospital, everyone seems to smile, laugh and it lightens the mood a little bit.”

Joshua Robertson is a patient at the ISR. In January, Joshua was involved in a car wreck, and his car hit a gas line. Joshua’s rehab is tough, but he said Sammy helps him get more relaxed and confident.

“Not everyone is in a great mood coming into a hospital or coming into therapy," Robertson said. “Anytime I come in here and see Sammy, it always brings a smile to my face. He really helps a lot."

It’s not just a smile that Sammy can bring. This four-legged friend can also be a tool in the recovery process.

"When it's a task, like make a fist ten times, versus, 'let's play fetch with the dog,'" Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Tiffany Pittman said. "You're going to get the same effects, but it's not this dreaded 'one, two, three' over and over again. It’s repetitive motion that we encourage anyway, but they're not thinking about it as therapy."

And no matter how a patient looks or feels, Sammy treats everyone the same. "We have our patients with different amputations,” Purskowski said, “and a lot of scarring. They may be self-conscious about how they look or what they can do. Then Sammy comes up, and he's like, 'I don't care what you look like. I don't care if you have an amputation or are wearing a brace.' He just does his own thing and treats them the same as me, or you, or anyone else."

Kaitlin says that she believes the ISR is the first Burn Center to allow therapy dogs to interact with patients. They are hoping that Sammy’s admission will lead to more therapy dogs looking for a place to make a difference.

To learn more about the U.S. Army ISR and get contact information, click here: http://www.usaisr.amedd.army.mil/

To learn more about Therapy Animals SA, click here: https://www.therapyanimalssa.org/

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