First KGH therapy dog, Braemar, dies

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 17, 2012 

Braemar, a 140-pound Leonberger breed dog, brought a mountain of joy to hundreds of patients at Kennewick General Hospital until his untimely death Aug. 24.

This gentle giant was the first therapy dog used in KGH's Paws for Patients program, which started in 2006.

Braemar's owners, Karrie and Ian Napier of Kennewick, said their beloved pet developed bone cancer in his left rear leg earlier this year. Despite radiation treatments, his condition deteriorated after he broke his leg last month walking up stairs, so the couple made the painful decision to put him down at the age of 7.

"We got him when he was 8 weeks old -- the cutest puppy we'd ever seen," Karrie said. "He began his pet therapy at home at a very early age by simply bringing his family joy and companionship every day."

It didn't take her long to realize the family had a special dog.

"Braemar was the first Paws for Patients therapy dog at KGH," Napier said. "He was simply a natural at bringing joy to others."

And he blazed a trail. The KGH medical staff was hesitant to allow the program, but once Braemar came on the scene, attitudes changed, she said.

Dr. Steve Kincaid, a KGH staff surgeon, said losing Braemar was a big loss for the pet therapy program. He said he also believes the dogs provide more than just a joyful visit during a patient's hospital stay.

"Patients absolutely recover faster with pet therapy dogs visiting them," Kincaid said. "They warm up to dogs quickly. They remind them of home and more pleasant times. And a dog is always happy to see anyone."

He also was unique, not only for great size, but also because he would go beyond his duties and talk to the patients in a gentle voice.

"He would even wave to patients from the doorway by putting his paw in the air," Napier said. "And he would talk to them using a very quiet bark when asked a question. He also loved cookies and would do almost anything for one."

Brenda Draper, director of volunteers at KGH, said therapy dogs provide a great calming effect for patients.

"Petting an animal is soothing and gives the patient something else to think about other than why they are in the hospital," Draper said. "Braemar was the largest of our therapy dogs. He was just a gentle giant."

There are six other therapy dogs providing comfort to KGH patients. There's Marlee, a lovable male Lab; Kalia, a tiny female Maltese; Yachtzee, a female border collie; Porche, a female boxer; and, two male Dobermans -- Bo and Shreq.

Some day, Karrie Napier, a RN at KGH, hopes to see therapy dogs at the hospital every day. At this point, the dogs visit two or three days a week for a few hours of companionship with patients, she said.

Draper said any dog breed can become a therapy dog as long as the pooch passes an evaluation and certification course through therapy animal programs such as Pet Partners, Love on a Leach or Therapy Dogs Inc. -- all of which can be found online.

For more information about the dog therapy program at KGH, contact Draper at 586-5117.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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