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http://www.heraldnews.com/site/news.cfm ... 9784&rfi=6

Cloud’ brings rays of hope

Deborah Allard-Bernardi, Herald News Staff Rporter05/15/2005

PROVIDENCE -- It’s not that the patients aren’t happy to see Marilyn Duquette, but when she visits, it’s her dog Cloud that gets all the attention.

Cloud is an 8-year-old greyhound, retired from the Lincoln Greyhound Park. Her new job is to spread cheer to the patients of Miriam Hospital’s oncology unit.

"It comforts them in their pain and loneliness," said Duquette of Somerset. "It’s something warm and soft."

With her gentle demeanor, Cloud easily nuzzles up to the patients, offers up her head for a pat and stares longingly with her big brown eyes.

"With her temperament, she’s perfect for pet therapy," said Duquette.

Duquette came on board to Miriam Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program last year, just after undergoing chemotherapy treatments there for breast cancer herself. She said she chose Miriam Hospital because her physician is located there.

While hospitalized, she recalled getting a visit from a friendly poodle and its master. Just a few pats, and suddenly the fear and loneliness were erased, if only for a few minutes.

"It’s like a vitamin," said Duquette.

That visit validated something she already knew. "I knew I was meant to carry out this special mission."

Duquette had already been studying pet-assisted therapy at the Community College of Rhode Island for a couple of years. She learned early on that animals can calm the human spirit, she said.

It all started when Duquette was a child. Her father was hospitalized at Charlton Memorial Hospital and missing the family dog. Meanwhile, the dog would not eat without her father there to feed him.

"So I took the matter into my own hands," said Duquette. "I brought the dog to the hospital and climbed the fire escape ... to my dad’s room (on the third floor)."

Her plan worked. The dog began eating at home again once he learned where his master had gone. And, her father was cheered by the visit.

"That was the start," said Duquette. "The seed was planted."

Duquette was never caught visiting her father via the hospital fire escape. In fact, she would later spend 30 years working at Charlton Memorial Hospital in patient account services.

Between working in the hospital and being an animal lover, Duquette said it would be nice to combine the two.

"I wanted to work with animals and help patients," she said.

Slowly, it all came together.

Six years ago, Duquette was attending a picnic at the Lincoln dog track with a friend who owned a greyhound adopted from the track’s rescue program.

Duquette had no intention of taking a dog home, but she went for a walk to the kennel and took a look at the greyhounds offered for adoption.

And, there was the black 2-year-old greyhound who stole Duquette’s heart. "She basically chose me," she said.

In the gift shop, Duquette came across a collar with clouds on it and purchased it. Cloud became her new dog’s name.

Another incident several years later cemented Duquette’s belief that animals can help people.

In 2001, Duquette’s mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer -- the same disease that killed her father in 1985 -- and spent her last days at the former Rose Hawthorne Lathrop Home for cancer patients.

"I visited my mom and the other patients with my pets," said Duquette. And she saw how it comforted them and their families.

"I feel that God led me on a certain route," said Duquette.

With that, she decided it was time to enroll in a pet therapy training program. She is currently completing her internship and will soon be certified.

She’s learned that pets do much more than make people smile.

Pet therapy is a proven method of treatment, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998. The article found that patients showed "significant positive changes" in their psychosocial well-being.

Other medical studies report that pet therapy helps patients communicate, improves their mobility and relieves anxiety.

Miriam Hospital began its program two years ago. It currently has six pet therapists on its volunteer roster.

"It says how the Miriam feels about its patients," said Arlene Orcutt, volunteer coordinator for Miriam Hospital. "We want to make their experience as humane as possible."

Suzanne Dubois was diagnosed with lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes, in March 2004. For the past two months, she’s been undergoing treatments at Miriam Hospital and looking forward to her daily visits with the dogs, and their owners.

"I think it’s great," said Dubois, giving Cloud a pat on the head. "You meet the different dogs. They’re all nice. The people who do this are great, too."

For Duquette, seeing a smile on Dubois’ face when she visits with Cloud, is all the payment she needs. She remembers what it felt like to lie in a hospital bed.

"It’s the emotions," said Duquette. "No one can really know what you feel when you get chemo and your hair is falling out."

Duquette found a lump in her right breast in March 2004 and said she knew right away it was cancer because the disease is in her family history.

It was a Stage 2 tumor. It had spread to nine of her lymph nodes.

She underwent a lumpectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiation.

Duquette said the experience changed her. "It’s what you make of it. I have a whole new outlook on life," she said. "Life is too short to be petty."

Having lost both her parents to cancer, as well, Duquette remembers sitting bedside and watching them suffer with the disease.

"I can relate to what the families are going through. And, that’s why I chose to do this," said Duquette.

E-mail Deborah

Allard-Bernardi at dbernardi@heraldnews.com.

©The Herald News 2005

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