Dialysis Clinic, Inc. - Dog Therapy Brightens Days at DCI Yorktown
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DCI Yorktown’s Dog Therapy Brightens Days For Patients and Staff

Posted in Articles by Dialysis Clinic, Inc.

"It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them."

– John Grogan, author of Marley & Me

Friendly and furry, two therapy dogs bring cheer and cuddles multiple times a week to patients and the care team at Yorktown Artificial Kidney Center, a DCI clinic located in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Sunny Boy, a golden retriever, and Dylan, a yellow Labrador retriever, are certified therapy dogs who visit up to 30 patients during their dialysis treatments. Yorktown is the first DCI location nationwide to offer a dog therapy program within a dialysis clinic, and the first in New York state.

“You can see the smiles on their faces the moment the dog walks in the door,” said Yorktown Unit Clerk Clara Distelhurst. “They meet the dog and talk with the handler. It’s a big mood changer.”

The dogs are part of the clinic community, even landing their photos on the monthly birthday board. Their handlers go to each patient checking to see who would like a visit. The dogs stand on a platform to allow patients to reach them from their treatment chairs.

“The handlers bring a stool to sit and visit with the patients,” Clara said. “It gives them a chance for conversation.”

Not only do they brighten moods, but pet therapy visits like those from Sunny Boy and Dylan also help to decrease stress hormones, lower blood pressure and reduce loneliness, according to the National Institutes of Health.

 Dylan has been greeting DCI patients since 2015 after learning the ropes from his dad Doogle, one of the first therapy dogs to visit Yorktown clinic in 2014. The clinic’s former social worker and dog lover, who has since retired, drafted policies to create the dog therapy program. 

When COVID-19 limited clinic guests, the dog therapy program paused for nearly three years.

“During the pandemic, everything stopped,” said Yorktown Nurse Manager Judy Beckman. “I had a lot of people who asked if we were bringing back the dogs. They really missed the dogs.” 

The patients aren’t the only ones enjoying the visits. “Staff members love it,” Clara said. “I know it changes my mood when I see them. The dogs go running in every office. They go by and visit everyone. They all have treats.”

The instantaneous connection between an elderly patient and a therapy dog is a memory Judy will always carry with her. The patient’s dementia had progressed over the years causing her to become increasingly agitated. But, as soon as the dog greeted her and she started petting him, the patient’s mood transformed.

“The first day the dog came in, she said ‘I love dogs’ and was taken back,” Judy said. “To see that happen in the clinic was just absolutely incredible. Every time since the dog came in, you could see her come back. She wanted to pet the dog to bring her back to where her life was good.”

“Every time I see the dogs, I always think of her,” she said. 

“A lot of patients used to be pet owners but can’t take care of an animal; it just brings them back,” Judy said.

See the joy the dogs brought to DCI patients when the program first started.