You’ve heard about healing hands, but what about healing paws? They belong to Nance. He wears a Mercy badge and even claims his own office space, but don’t let the collar fool you – this yellow lab is as good as gold to Mercy Therapy Services.
Just ask Laura Horve. Her daughter Katy has spent months interacting with the 2-year-old pooch. “We noticed Katy wasn’t talking and she was almost 2,” said Laura. “The therapists picked up on some sensory issues. At first, she wouldn’t have petted a dog, and didn’t like her hands to get dirty.”
But Katy is now all hands on deck, her eyes lighting up the moment she sees Nance at the start of her bi-weekly sessions. From petting and brushing to playing fetch and feeding Nance, it’s clear Katy is putting her senses to the test.
“At first she wanted me to feed him, but eventually she was okay holding his food,” explained Nance’s handler, Mercy occupational therapist Kari Ross in Lebanon, Mo. “Then she started letting him take the food out of her hand, which meant her hands would get wet and sticky. She then began to tolerate washing her hands at the sink after feeding Nance and using the foam soap.” Katy has now developed the motor ability to throw a ball at least seven feet; before, she had no motivation to throw the ball. “She would just throw it straight down at the floor.”
Nance joined the Mercy staff in August from Canine Companions for Independence. “We began exploring the idea of a therapy dog for the Lebanon campus after hearing about the wonderful work the Springfield therapy dog was contributing,” said Terri Foster, director of Mercy Therapy Services.
Mercy had been on a waiting list for a therapy dog for more than a year. By that time, Nance had two years of training under his belt, having started at just 8 weeks old. His new handler Kari traveled to Ohio for a week to meet and train with Nance. “We really didn’t have any say in which dog we would be going home with, but I was really happy with the dog they chose for us.”
Since arriving in the Ozarks, Nance has interacted with children with cerebral palsy, autism, Asperger’s, global developmental delays and Down syndrome. He’s even worked with patients recovering from strokes.
“Speech therapists have brought their clients to Nance to facilitate speech as they pet him,” said Kari. “Some of our orthopedic patients have also enjoyed petting Nance while they are being stretched, even though Nance was not directly working with them. He’s a nice distraction at times for our patients.”
Plans are already in place for Nance to train with other therapists so his healing paws can expand their reach. For example, if an amputee patient needs to work on balance activities, Nance can assist.
“We had a few skeptical therapists who were won over within the first week,” added Foster. Take a stroll across the Mercy Lebanon campus and you’ll likely bump into an ally of Nance.
“We have patients come in all day long, who are so happy to see Nance,” Kari said with a smile. “Many of our patients do not work directly with Nance, although make comments that he brightens their day. Children come to therapy looking for Nance even if they don’t specifically work with Nance. “
“The day Katy gets to work with Nance she gets excited,” added Katy’s mom Laura. “She definitely wouldn’t have done that two months ago.”
Canine Companions for Independence is the nation’s first and largest non-profit provider of trained assistance dogs for children, adults and veterans with physical disabilities. Established in 1975, Canine Companions is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and quality and longevity of the matches it makes between people and dogs. There is no charge for the dog, its training and ongoing follow-up services. For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.