Moe is a registered therapy dog and the only one in Terre Haute actively visiting at this time, according to Linda McQuiston, assistant nursing professor at Indiana State and Moe’s human.
At 11 years old, Moe enjoys his golden years by watching “The Price is Right” and traveling to the hospitals to visit patients. Moe is a registered therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International — the only one in Terre Haute actively visiting at this time, according to Linda McQuiston, assistant nursing professor at Indiana State and Moe’s human. In addition to hospitals, McQuiston brings him to Indiana State’s campus to visit faculty, staff, students and anyone who needs a calming cuddle on test days, even if she is not the professor administering the test.
McQuiston says there is a great need for therapy dogs because “they have a calming effect. It brings back memories of being at home and safe, secure and it washes away some of the everyday anxiety.”
Even for people who aren’t necessarily dog lovers, Moe’s companionship is invaluable, explains McQuiston. “At the hospital, there will be patients who say ‘I don’t like dogs’ or ‘I’m allergic to dogs’, but a lot of them don’t want to give him up, and they’ll ask if Moe can just stay in the room; and he sits and watches TV with them, he’ll roll over onto his back so they can rub his belly. Sometimes they just talk. He watched one child play video games.”
Therapy dogs can take an abnormal environment — such as a hospital — and make it feel more normal. McQuiston refrains from asking others about a diagnosis when she visits hospitals with Moe.
“Moe tends to pick up on the people who are really ill — even those suffering from a mental illness — and he will snuggle more and spend more time with them. People who don’t need him, they’ll pet him on the head, and he’ll be like ‘OK, I’m outta here!’ and he leaves.”
McQuiston says Moe visits everyone in a group setting, but by the end of a visit, he will zone in on one or two individuals and stay with them.
When asked how he can sort the groups, McQuiston said, “He doesn’t talk, but I wish I knew. He’s very intuitive, I think, as a dog, on who needs what and when. When I’m sick at home, he hangs out with me. And when I’m stressing for deadlines or something, he knows where to be.”
McQuiston referenced a 2015 study conducted by Pain Service and Palliative Care (Meyer Children’s Hospital in Florence, Italy), “Can presence of a dog reduce pain and distress in children during venipuncture?”, where cortisol, the hormone related to stress, and pain levels were measured in children during a blood collection procedure. While the parents of the children were present to comfort both groups, the experimental group of children additionally had a dog present during the procedure; cortisol levels were lower in the group given a dog.
“There is a physical correlation,” said McQuiston.
Moe was a pedigreed dog that she had initially adopted as a personal companion. When Moe was 12 weeks old, McQuiston began taking him to a nursing home to visit her cousin, who had cerebral palsy. A colleague suggested she sign Moe up with Therapy Dogs International. McQuiston recently rescued another dog to train for therapy. When determining what dog would be a good candidate for the job, “you have to kind of go on your own intuition.
Indy is a retriever-yellow lab mix who loves being around people and is enrolled in Canine Good Citizen classes — one of the steps to becoming a certified therapy dog. The classes teach the dogs how to be appropriate in public, as opposed to “jumping on people and other dogs” and unsuitable playing. Dogs must also be one year or older to become eligible. While in Canine Good Citizen classes with Moe, McQuiston discovered that one of the instructors wanted to train a group for Therapy Dogs International, and they jumped on board.
Indy also tags along on visits with Moe in group therapy sessions. So far, Indy is doing very well, and is demonstrating the same intuition that Moe has for people in need. At 8 months old, Indy is able to calm down in a group after 20 minutes. When she finishes playing, she will visit individuals in the group.
As a full-grown Labrador, Indy might not fit as comfortably in patients’ beds as Moe. “Hopefully, she will just put her head on the bed and get close enough, maybe put her front feet on the bed — we do have to make sure there is an extra layer of sheets for sanitary reasons — but you never know. Some people don’t care what size of dog it is!”
It is fortunate then that McQuiston sought Indy’s larger size so that she could integrate her into children’s group-homes. Indy is also learning to play ball, Frisbee, and return sticks. “So [the kids] will be able to interact with her on a broad scale versus Moe, which is very small-scale.”
McQuiston also plans to train a 5-year-old black lab. She has no concerns about working with the older dog, as “she grew up on two acres without a leash.” Like Indy, she will play catch in a children’s group-home.
There are four or five dogs working on their certification in Sullivan. “Which will be wonderful,” says McQuiston.
McQuiston certified Moe to gain entry into hospitals. McQuiston came from a rural area in Tennessee, and noticed that she did not see any dogs in hospitals like she did back home. “Being a nurse, I’ve seen tons of dogs in nursing homes, but not in the hospital. I’m comfortable in that environment, and I wanted to bring my dogs into that environment.”
In Tennessee while patients are having chemotherapy infusions in the cancer center, the dogs would sit in their laps and visit to pass the time.
There are other benefits to taking Moe out into the world. “He’s an ice-breaker. For my students, I think I almost become more approachable if I have a dog.”
McQuiston says in a perfect world, there would be a therapy dog in every college department — especially when finals come around and stress levels hit maximum capacity. “There is a sincere benefit of having a therapy animal. Even on campus. When we walk across campus, people will stop to pet him and they play with him and he just kind of prances like, ‘this is my campus!’ I think it’s really important to reduce those stresses so students can do the best they can on a test.”
McQuiston recalled one time when Moe heard a group studying for a test in the hallway and raced to sit in their laps while they studied. On another occasion, when students were performing catheterizations on dummies, Moe jumped onto the bed and put his paw on the manikin.
Until there are more therapy dogs in Terre Haute, Moe will continue his job of comforting people — and manikins — in times of need.