Meet Truitt, healing hound at Swedish/Issaquah
July 31, 2012
By Christina Corrales-Toy
When Laurie Carlisle and her Shetland sheepdog Truitt walk into Swedish/Issaquah they possess the magnetism of celebrities. Every eye in the lobby gravitates toward the 4-year-old sheltie. Visitors stop to pet Truitt and passers-by can’t help but smile at the lovable canine.
Truitt attentively sniffs the hands of visitors and flashes his signature goofy smile as his tongue flops out of his mouth. He is a very energetic dog that participates in agility competitions, but at the hospital, the sheltie puts his game face on.
Every Tuesday, Carlisle and Truitt visit patients in the Swedish/Issaquah Oncology Department, bringing smiles and a moment of relief to patients, and staff and family members in the department. Carlisle said Truitt understands the setting and adjusts his behavior accordingly.
“He knows why he’s here,” she said. “He’s just very calming for the patients.”
It is heavy stuff, visiting with patients receiving cancer treatment, but a visit from Truitt can make a world of a difference.
“It’s very rewarding,” Carlisle said. “I was visiting one woman who said to me that Truitt and I are angels sent from heaven, from God, and she got all teary-eyed, and that was just so wonderful.”
Truitt entertains with his arsenal of tricks. The black-and-white sheltie takes his cues from Carlisle and puts on quite a show. He does the regular doggie tricks — sitting, staying and lying down — but he also knows his right from left and turns either way upon Carlisle’s commands. Carlisle even tells patients the sheltie can fly — and that’s exactly what it looks like when the small dog leaps into his owner’s arms from a few feet away.
Joan Myers is an outpatient at the department who enjoyed Truitt’s visits. She fondly greeted Truitt as he approached, remembering him from a prior visit. On what was her last day receiving radiation treatment, she wanted to make sure she had one last moment with the sheltie that brightened her day during visits.
“Truitt’s visits gave me something to look forward to,” she said.
Carlisle may not realize it, but she is just as important and impactful as Truitt during the visits. She greets each patient by giving him or her a souvenir of sorts — a trading card with Truitt’s face. Carlisle is entirely attentive to each patient. She listens, asks questions and makes a connection based on their love for animals. She doesn’t ask about the cancer, she doesn’t mention the treatment. She simply asks about patients’ pets.
It’s that passion for animals that drives Carlisle to provide this service.
“I come here because I know how much I love my dog and animals, and no matter who you are, what you look like, whether you are well, whether you are sick, just a touch of an animal and feeling their soft fur brings a smile to my face and to the patients’ face,” she said. “To hear a patient that’s in the hospital in a lot of a pain saying, ‘For just a few minutes, I forgot why I was even here. For a few minutes, I didn’t have any pain,’ that’s worth it all.”
The two visit the hospital as a part of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program, which gives owners and pets the skills to conduct safe, therapeutic visits in environments such as hospitals, nursing homes and classrooms.
“I’ve always known about Pet Partners and I knew that my dog had a special gift,” Carlisle said. “So, I just inquired and we went through a workshop, and then Truitt had to be evaluated and go through quite a few test processes in order to pass.”
To become a registered Pet Partners team, the animal must have a firm grasp of basic obedience skills. Handlers must attend an all-day workshop that teaches the skills to conduct safe visits in complex environments. The handler and animal are then subject to a two-part evaluation that determines whether or not they are capable of becoming a registered Pet Partners team.
Some animals pass the evaluations on a normal level, allowing them to visit nursing homes. Those that pass with a complex level, such as Truitt, have the ability to visit hospitals, prisons and can go just about anywhere.
Carlisle works as a sales manager for the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel encourages its employees to participate in the community. Carlisle does her part through these weekly visits.
“I’m thrilled to do it,” she said. “It just totally makes my day, makes my week, makes my life worth it.”