When Belinda and Sean McCully went to adopt a dog, they knew Hunter was the one.
“We instinctively knew he was going to be a good dog,” Belinda said.
Hunter, a 6-year-old Labrador/hound mix, has proven to be much more than a gentle, loyal pet. He and Belinda, a Research Assistant Professor with the Division of Trauma in the Surgery Department at OHSU, team up to provide animal-assisted therapy to Cardiovascular ICU patients, families, faculty and staff.
“He’s very intuitive,” Belinda said. “This is true for a lot of animals – they go straight for a person who needs some love. He’s definitely the kind of dog who loves to please and he knows that he can help.”
Before they began volunteering, Hunter and Belinda completed a 6-week animal therapy course through Pet Partners. The course included general obedience training and various scenarios designed to demonstrate Hunter’s ability to avoid distractions and keep calm in busy environments. As Hunter’s handler, Belinda also learned how to assess situations and instruct Hunter to respond appropriately.
Belinda and Hunter volunteer every other Friday, checking in with care teams to see if there are patients who might benefit from a visit. It’s difficult to make it down a hallway without being stopped by curious visitors and staff, Belinda said. The three things she hears most often from friendly passersby are “He’s so soft,” “I love his badge!” and “Can I take him home with me?”
One of the most important kinds of support Hunter and Belinda provide for patients is a sense of normalcy for patients missing their home routines.
“The patients who really love to see him are the ones who have pets at home they can’t be with,” Belinda said.
Faculty and staff (including Sean, who is a surgical resident) also cherish their time with Hunter, often stooping down next to him for a few moments of peace with the surprisingly soft dog.
“These visits are just as beneficial for staff as they are for patients,” Belinda said. “Families, too, are able to have a few moments of relief and detach from the situation a bit.”
Seeing relief on people’s faces – even if it’s just for five minutes – makes the volunteer work well worth it.