Truffle isn’t your typical volunteer at Goshen Center for Cancer Care
. She is one of the shortest in the group and just a youngster, although no one knows her exact age.
But when the volunteer service vest goes on, Truffle is as eager as the rest to get to work and do her best to help ease a burden or brighten someone’s day.
“There’s a swagger in her step,” said Bethany Swope
, who accompanies Truffle on all her rounds. “She is here for everyone who wants to interact with her.”
Truffle is a therapy dog. She and her handler, Bethany, work as a team to offer comfort and support to Colleagues, patients and family members at the cancer center.
“Truffle tunes into people’s emotions,” said Bethany, a mind-body counselor at the cancer center. “I’ve learned to trust her sense of who I need to take her to see, and she’s always right.”
Serving others in high stress settings
Therapy dogs have been making rounds in hospital settings for decades. They are part of a corps of assistance animals trained with their human partners to offer a sense of calmness and restfulness for people in stressful situations.
Animal-assisted therapy delivers some of the same benefits as exercise. It can reduce stress, depression and anxiety and increase feelings of well-being.
Other assistance dogs may provide a service or emotional support for a specific human. However, Truffle and her partner have been trained in the art of visiting.
The team is available to anyone who is looking for a brief moment to get away from the stresses of the day. They drop in on clinic work areas to say hello or sit quietly with a patient in the lobby.
“People seem to breathe a little easier, look calmer, relax more easily when a therapy dog is around,” Bethany said.
A natural mix of calm, quiet friendliness
Bethany and her husband adopted the chow mix from a rescue shelter in 2021 when Truffle was about a year old. From the start, Bethany’s intention was to train Truffle to join the hospital auxiliary’s team of volunteers as a therapy dog.
Bethany had read about how therapy dogs could help front-line workers de-stress during the pandemic. It inspired her to want to do the same for Colleagues, patients and family members at the cancer center.
Truffle’s calm personality and well-mannered behavior made her a model student in therapy dog training sessions. She was a quick learner and naturally obedient. Noises, sudden movements and hospital equipment – such as wheelchairs, walkers and elevators – didn’t faze her.
Bethany – a dog lover at heart – leaned on her experiences as a counselor and educator during her own training as Truffle’s handler. She learned techniques to make the team available to people in need of a brief respite and how to gauge people’s interest in interacting with Truffle.
The duo received credentialing as a therapy dog handler team from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in late 2021. By the end of the year, Truffle became an official Goshen Health volunteer.
Stepping up for anyone in need of a break
On occasion, Truffle senses that she’s needed before she even enters the cancer center.
That’s what happened one day when a patient sat alone outside the building, waiting for a ride. Truffle immediately led Bethany to the man and waited for introductions.
Then Truffle parked herself close to the man’s side and sat patiently while he petted her and spoke quietly about his day.
“She would not leave him until his ride came to pick him up,” Bethany said. “Even though it was the beginning of our visit, and she loves coming in here, she picked out this person and stayed with him.”
Volunteer visits make a work day brighter
The mood changes in an instant when Truffle steps into the cancer center with Bethany. Her fans greet her with a rousing cheer. They stop for a moment to give Truffle a pat on the head and breathe in her calming presence.
Bethany sees what a difference the much-needed therapy can make for her Colleagues. Smiles burst forth naturally, breathing takes on a new rhythm and postures relax every time the twosome walks in a room.
“I hear over and over, ‘I needed that,’” Bethany said. “‘Thank you so much for bringing her to us.’”
That’s incentive enough for Bethany to keep up with Truffle’s volunteer schedule at the cancer center every Friday afternoon.
For Truffle, it may be the treats that keep her eager to come back. Half a peanut butter sandwich is her favorite. Or maybe it’s the reward of a well-deserved nap when she finishes her shift.
Either way, thank you for your service, Truffle. See you next week.