ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — After suffering a brain aneurysm, Linda Parks struggled to regain both her mobility and speech, but a special member of the St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital staff has helped in her recovery.
Parks, 38, of New Castle, is one of the first patients to have worked with Denny, a black Labrador and golden retriever mix, and the only four-legged staff member of the hospital's Bennett Rehabilitation Center.
The center, which provides intensive inpatient rehabilitation care for patients after they have suffered a stroke, spinal cord injury, amputation or other debilitating condition or injury, added the dog to its program in December.
Parks' mother, Becky Francis, 58, said her daughter's condition improved remarkably after working with the canine.
"I think that it is one of the best rehab programs they have got," Francis told The Herald Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1mw4OLp ). "She just kept her calm so she could concentrate."
Brittney Millspaugh Storms, a physical therapist at the Bennett Rehabilitation Center, is the primary handler for Denny, but she said other therapists can use the dog.
Denny, who was trained through the Indiana Canine Assist Network (ICAN), lives with Storms and works full time at the hospital.
Storms said the use of working dogs in medical settings is becoming more and more common, but there is a difference between service and therapy animals.
Service dogs are protected by the American Disabilities Act and live with their owners to provide physical and emotional support for a disability. These dogs are trained to only assist a specific individual with their daily living.
Therapy and facility dogs, however, are trained in performing specialized tasks with a variety of professionals and clients.
Denny is a facility dog, not a service dog.
She is specially trained to assist with specific physical therapy treatments and can help patients relax, provide patients with emotional support and help them to perform physical tasks.
"Things may never be the same again for some of our patients, but we can take your mind off that with Denny," Storms said.
Some hospitals will also invite volunteer dogs that are trained to behave in a medical setting into a facility to interact with patients, Storms said, but these animals can only offer affection and comfort. Volunteer dogs cannot touch the medical equipment or be used in any of the patient's treatments.
Denny is trained to help patients with balance, movements such as bending and grasping a ball to play fetch, and motivates them to do more during their physical therapy.
"Patients are more relaxed when Denny is around," Storms said. "She also gives them someone to hug and love on."
On average, Denny works with seven or eight patients a day, but can assist with up to 13 patients. Individual therapy can vary to between 10 minutes of playing a game of fetch or hide and seek to about 40 for more intensive interactions.
Francis said the time Denny spent with her daughter was invaluable.
"A lot of people out there have pets and they can associate to them better than they can with some people," she said.
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com