Boone dog saints — Dog visitors help patients feel at home during hospitalization

By Shannon Whitney

This story is featured in the Fall 2012 edition of myBoone Health magazine. Click here for a free subscription. Please review Boone Hospital’s pet policy before arranging a pet visit.

When patients see Trooper scurrying around the hospital, they smile.

Even Trooper, the 3-year-old therapy dog, looks like he’s smiling as his owner, Alice Morison, leads him around Boone Hospital Center.

Trooper

As a dog who has taken his hard knocks, it’s great to see him so happy. Earlier in life, Trooper and his sister were thrown from a moving car. Someone brought them both to the Humane Society, where Trooper’s leg had to be amputated. The veterinarian who performed the operation named him Trooper.

Morison has lived in Columbia since 1975, and loves critters of all kinds. She volunteers at D&D Farm and Animal Sanctuary and the Central Missouri Humane Society. That’s how she and Trooper first crossed paths. She took him twice to KOMU’s “Pet Corner,” and after no one adopted him the second time, she did.

“I tell everyone he already had a leg up on the other dogs at the Humane Society,” Morison says with a laugh.

Her dry sense of humor perfectly compliments Trooper’s bright disposition. They clearly have chemistry. She rescued Trooper, not knowing that he would do the same for her and so many others.

In July 2011, Morison was hospitalized for severe pain, which led to a couple surgeries on her colon and a long stay at Boone Hospital. Morison got to know the nurses and physicians who, as she says, “brought her back to life.”

One Sunday, she saw the therapy dogs who visit Boone each week. Dogs and their owners come into meet patients, offering comfort and friendship.

Trooper and Alice Morison.

In talking to the nurses, she learned about Boone’s pet policy, which allows canine visitors, with a few stipulations. She called her vet, Dr. Debbie Leach, who had been taking care of Trooper during Morison’s hospitalization.

Dr. Leach brought Trooper up to visit on Thursday afternoons. Morison gets a little teary-eyed when she talks about seeing her beloved pet.

“I missed him. It made me feel great,” she said. “Little kids have their blankie when they go to bed. He’s my blankie.”

She said sometimes when her compression hose would puff up in the middle of the night, she would think it was Trooper laying his head on her legs.

Trooper was no stranger to health care environments. Morison brought him to the nursing home each week to visit her mother.

“He’s not afraid at all of walkers or wheelchairs like most dogs are,” Morison says. “He accepts it and goes on. He has learned to stay out of the way of the wheels.”

It almost seems as if the dog has a special place in his heart for people who can’t get around conventionally, like himself.

“He just seems to have a sense for people who really need some kind of reassurance,” claims his adoring owner.

Morison has spent time training him to stay in the yard and heel on command. When he obeys, anyone can see the adoring look he gives her as he patiently waits for his next command.

Trooper also went to classes to become a therapy dog, but it’s clear his personality is what makes him a perfect fit for the job.

Every Monday for the past year when Morison came back to have her bandages changed, she brought Trooper along. In the waiting room, he would bring smiles to kids and adults alike.

One little boy was shy at first, but eventually approached Trooper. Morison encouraged the boy to pet him, assuring him that Trooper was friendly and a therapy dog. After a few minutes the boy and Trooper were cuddling and talking like old friends.

The boy’s mother approached Morison and explained that her son was autistic, terrified of dogs and never talked.

Morison just smiled, “Well, evidently he’s not afraid of Trooper. He seems to like playing with him,” she answered.

She was not surprised by Trooper’s healing presence; she has tons of anecdotes that tell of patients finding comfort in her three-legged friend.

This August, Morison came back to have another surgery at Boone Hospital. Of course, Trooper came back to visit.

By then he’d become a celebrity among the hospital’s staff. Martha Johnson in Customer Relations is one of Trooper’s favorites. He wags his tail impatiently at the door to her office, begging for a belly scratch.

One day a family approached Morison asking if Trooper could visit their grandma. She had been in the hospital for two months and missed her three dogs at home. Johnson requested the vet fax over Trooper’s records, and he was cleared for the visit.

The woman’s son lifted Trooper onto the bed with his mother, and he sat next to her nuzzling and wagging his tail.

“He’s really good. He never did try to step or lay on her; he just laid beside her,” Morison said.

Morison and Trooper are back at home, together again.

Now when they visit the hospital, nurses and staff rush over to greet them. Everyone inquires about her health and Trooper, too. Both are doing just fine.

The nurses on the fifth floor are happy to see the puppy, but more excited to see Morison’s progress. She teases them and is happy to let them pet Trooper.

“I am very proud of him,” said Morison. “He’s just paying it forward.”

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