Med Student’s Therapy Dog Brings Comfort to BMC Patients

Otis’ charm also proves irresistible to students

When Cara Guenther started medical school, she yearned to spend more time visiting with patients. But the demanding curriculum often made that difficult.

That changed after Ms. Guenther, a third year student at the School of Medicine, got a Bernese mountain dog named Otis. She’d always wanted a Bernese mountain dog, a breed known for being affectionate and good with people. She soon realized that Otis’ loving, calm demeanor made him an ideal candidate to be a therapy dog. So Guenther and Otis enrolled in a training program run by Dog B.O.N.E.S., a local nonprofit that pairs therapy dogs with youth, elderly, and disabled people. Needless to say, Otis passed with flying colors.

“Bernese mountain dogs are certainly known for being affectionate and needy, so I think they are a good fit for this,” Ms. Guenther says.

Once certified, Otis and Ms. Guenther joined Boston Medical Center’s Healing Pups program. Over the past 18 months, Otis, who weighs in at about 110 pounds, has become something of a star on the pediatrics ward. He and Guenther also see any patient elsewhere in the hospital asking for a visit from a four-legged friend. And it’s not just patients who have become fans.

While he’s at BMC, Ms. Guenther makes a point of having Otis visit with MED students, who love to stop for a quick cuddle and photo op.

“Patients smile, they laugh, sometimes they want him to climb up on the bed with them,” says Ms. Guenther, “which I don’t let him do.” She says the whole experience has been rewarding for her—and for Otis. “He loves the attention,” she says. As for her: “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that has had such an immediate impact on boosting a person’s spirits. It’s rare to be able to make an impact so easily and see the effects of what you’re doing so visibly, so it’s really heartwarming.”

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