Cancer-therapy dogs studied at Randall

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Before she was a singing star, Naomi Judd was a registered nurse.

“I knew on some sort of instinctive level that animals were good for my patients,” she told KOIN 6 News in a Skype interview Thursday. “I believe in the mind-spirit-body-connection. … I saw a dog that could predict when his owner was going to have a grand mal seizure.”

Singer Naomi Judd, in a Skype interview with KOIN 6 News, May 8, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Singer Naomi Judd, in a Skype interview with KOIN 6 News, May 8, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Judd, along with American Humane Association President Robin Ganzert, four therapy dogs and others were on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday to launch a study on how dogs might help children who are diagnosed with cancer.

Randall Children’s Hospital is one of only five hospitals in the country doing a clinical trial to look at how animal-assisted therapy affects stress among kids with cancer.

Trevor Bateman-Oubre doesn’t just have an appointment with his doctor at Randall Children’s Hospital. He has some special therapy with a 6-year-old dog name Bear.

Bear is a specially trained pet partner that Trevor, 11, relates to.

“When I wasn’t bald,” he said, “I had black hair, too (like Bear),” he said.

That kind of uplifting interaction is exactly what researchers are tracking scientifically for the first time.

Trevor is one of about 100 patients nationwide being studied over the next year to look at the affects of animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of kids with cancer.

Each year in the US, 13,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer and receive regular treatments.

In the trial, the study will look at kids between 3 and 12.

The boy is undergoing chemotherapy after developing a tumor in his neck in February,

“I do think it helps their anxiety and their distress of being in the hospital,” said Dr. Janice Olson, the medical director of children’s and blood disorders program at Randall.

Dog handler Carol Otis said Bear “picks up on the mood of people, particularly children.”

“It’s just such a big shock and you just have this overwhelming sense of terror when you first hear it,” his mom, Audra Bateman-Oubre said. “But I’m doing better now.”

She said Bear gives her son reason to smile, even on his toughest days.

Trevor spends about 15 minutes once a week with Bear. Their interactions are recorded as researchers also track Trevor’s blood pressure and heart rate.

Researchers are also looking at the impact on Bear, measuring the amount of stress hormone — or perhaps the lack of it — in Bear’s saliva.

In the end, researchers expect the study to tell them what Trevor already knows.

“He’s about the coolest dog I know.”

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