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I’ll admit it. My dog Homer is a pretty pampered prince. He’s rarely left alone. Since he was a puppy, our little Sheltie-American Eskimo mix has been going to work with my husband, who owns a restaurant supply company. There Homer acts like the Wal-Mart greeter, walking up to customers, sniffing them, and following them around the store as they make their purchases.
I first brought Homer to work with me as an experiment a few years ago. I am a pediatrician in private practice. I was renting office space at the time in a building attached to Merrimack Valley Hospital. It was a Saturday morning and I was just going in to see a couple of children. The experiment failed. Homer sat outside the exam room and barked. And barked. And barked.
Since then Homer has matured and I now own my own condo space. So I’ve started bringing him with me on Fridays, my short day. I have to say, he’s useful to the practice. Children who are being seen because their parents used the “L” word on the phone (lethargic) often perk up when they see my little fur ball wagging his tail at the family. I think of it as the fourth vital sign: there’s the child’s weight, temperature, and pulse. Then there’s her reaction to Homer. If a pokey child who is curled up in his dad’s lap springs into action to pet my dog, I take that as a pretty reassuring sign.
Dogs are good for all kinds of things. They can act as companions for the elderly in nursing homes. They help provide therapy in schools for troubled children. I recently read an article in The Boston Globe about a Courthouse Dog Program where dogs help calm victims on the witness stand as they recount traumatic events. The animals are trained to sense anxiety and to try to reduce stress by seeking to be petted. Now a trip to the doctor’s can be pretty traumatic at times, especially if shots are involved. And Homer may or may not sense anxiety, but he sure knows how to seek to be petted.
I generally keep Homer in the reception area with me and the girls (my receptionist and medical assistant). I make sure kids aren’t allergic to dogs or afraid of them before I let him out into the waiting area. It’s fun to see children’s eyes widen as they realize there’s a dog in the office.
And speaking of allergies, at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, evidence was presented that children who lived with a dog or cat were less likely to have allergies to them. The research came from two communities, one in Detroit and one in Augusta, Georgia. Children were followed from birth to age 6 or 7. Blood samples were obtained regularly looking for antibodies to animal dander allergens.
Now I’m not saying that petting my dog at your child’s next well-child visit is going to prevent allergies. I’m just saying it might make the trip a little more fun.
Dr. Carolyn Roy-Bornstein is a Haverhill-based pediatrician who writes about health care. Her new memoir, CRASH! published by Globe Pequot Press will be out in October 2012.
This program aired on August 22, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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