Four-Legged Rescue Paying it Forward

As Charles Schulz of Charlie Brown fame once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” That statement comes to life in the halls of Boston Medical Center where 11 dogs—ranging from a Boston Terrier to a Labradoodle—roam as part of the Healing Pups Program to bring comfort and joy to BMC patients.

Recently, a pup named Stanley joined the brigade—a rescue from North Carolina who looks like a yellow Labrador, but has the energetic personality of a Pointer. Stanley is the eighth member of the Craven family, who was originally fostered by the Cravens’ daughter, Deirdre, while she was living in Raleigh as a veterinary technician. “My daughter began fostering Stanley after a litter of puppies was found on the side of the road in a box,” explains Nancy Craven, matriarch of the Craven household. “She began calling me saying we had to adopt Stanley, but I kept pushing back because we already had a dog. Eventually, we caved and we’re so happy we did.”

The Cravens have strong ties to Boston Medical Center. Their eldest son JP, was severely injured during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, and as a result, received emergent care at BMC. Since then, the Cravens have made it their personal mission to give back to BMC any way they can. Joe Craven, Nancy’s husband, dog-father to Stanley and member of BMC’s Philanthropic Trust, is running the Boston Marathon for the fourth year in a row as part of Team BMC—the hospital’s official marathon team. Joe and his fellow running teammates form JP’s Team, which also included his children, JP and Deirdre, when they ran with Team BMC in 2014.

Nancy is an active volunteer with Boston Medical Center, participating in various hospital fundraising events such as the BMC Catwalk for Cancer Care and annual Food for Thought dinner. “After my son was treated, I became more involved with the hospital and we began attending events,” says Nancy. “It was when I went to a luncheon that I first heard about Healing Pups. One of the founders, Sheryl Katzanek, spoke and I immediately fell in love with the program.”

Then, Stanley came into her life, and a light bulb went off. “I’ve always been looking for great ways to give back, and at the same time was trying to figure out fun things to do with Stanley during our free time,” describes Nancy. “Healing Pups was the first program that came to mind.”

This unique therapy program was first established in 2012 by BMC’s Office of Patient Advocacy, which strives to provide systems for coordinating, investigating and resolving patient and family grievances. The pooches visit the hospital campus regularly, offering in-hospital comfort to patients and families going through trauma and illness. They also lovingly deliver a furry, warm respite from the stresses of the day to all members of the BMC staff, who are always ready to give their four-legged colleagues a pat on the back, or a heartfelt hug.

“It’s always such a pleasure to see the reaction of patients, visitors and staff when the dogs enter a room,” says Sheryl Katzanek, director of Patient Advocacy and handler to Healing Pups dog, Rylie, a black Labrador Retriever. “For a few brief moments, people forget the tensions and challenges of their environment, and simply enjoy the company of man’s best friend.”

During a hospital stay, patients may be feeling down due to missing their own dogs at home, or perhaps need an extra push of encouragement to get out of bed the morning after surgery or while recovering from illness. Others simply thrive off of the dogs’ uplifting presence. “Sheryl and the program are incredible,” says Nancy. “We have shadowed Rylie and Sheryl and it’s amazing how everyone knows them. Every time we visit, we hear wonderful stories of how Rylie has helped patients.”

Stanley joined the program in December 2015, where he became the tenth member. Dogs of the program must undergo a thorough training and evaluation to become certified therapy dogs, so Nancy and Stanley spent much of the summer attending classes to get Stanley ready for his winter debut.

“It’s always such a pleasure to see the reaction of patients, visitors and staff when the dogs enter a room. For a few brief moments, people forget the tensions and challenges of their environment, and simply enjoy the company of man’s best friend.” – Sheryl Katzanek, director of Patient Advocacy and handler to Healing Pups dog Rylie

In his short time here, Stanley, who fashionably wears a bowtie during his visits, has mainly stopped by the pediatric floors where children adore his lively character. “You always come away feeling good, because you feel like you’re really making a difference,” explains Nancy. “You don’t realize how much it helps everyone—from staff to patients—until you see it firsthand. Stanley loves it too!”

“It’s a pleasure watching Stanley and Nancy in action,” adds Katzanek. “They are a closely bonded team that can quickly put any patient at ease.”

The Healing Pups Program has doubled in size since its inception and is, without a doubt, a service here to stay. And as Nancy will attest to, Stanley is only a piece of the puzzle. Abby, Charlie, Georgie, Killian, Maestro, Massi, Monty, Rylie, Sarge and Tuukka all join Stanley in making a furry dream team providing an indescribable sense of relief and security that at times is better than any medicine. “The dogs humble us,” concludes Katzanek. “They perform little miracles that no human can.”