(Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
(Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Patients wondered why a bulldog was wandering the halls of the King's Daughters' Health Cancer Treatment Center.

But once they found out that Tripp serves as the center's first pet partner they wanted him to visit.

KDH Clinical Oncology Pharmacist Chelsie Bentz, Tripp's owner, said most patients have been receptive to the idea of having a friendly canine around for company.

"The support for (the program) has been awesome," Bentz said.

King's Daughters' Hospital spokesman Dave Ommen said lots of patients are pet lovers and welcome the idea of an animal visit to brighten their day just a little.

Tripp has his usual rounds to make, Bentz said. He usually visits with patients throughout the day, then goes into Bentz' office where he takes naps and rests before venturing out again.

"He's a trip," Bentz said. "He's a little busy body."

Yet, of the six bulldogs Bentz has, Tripp's attitude matches best with the mission of the animal-assisted therapy.

He remains calm most of the time and doesn't mind meeting new friends or to be pet by several people at the same time.

"Believe it or not, bulldogs are kind of hyper," Bentz said, which makes Tripp's demeanor a little unusual.

A medical condition might slow the bulldog down a little, Bentz said, but his condition is just another way that patients connect to Tripp.

Bentz rescued Tripp in May through the Bulldogs with Special Needs, a program for special-needs bulldogs that she founded with her mother nearly a year ago. Tripp's first owner from Massachusetts surrendered him because of the medical condition.

Tripp has pulmonic stenosis - a heart valve disorder - and a heart murmur that Purdue University veterinarians monitor and treat, Bentz said.

Tripp also has a shortened life expectancy anywhere from 18 to 24 months because of his conditions, but Bentz hopes treatments might extend that estimate.

"The patients can relate to Tripp," Bentz said. "They already have a bond."

Bentz worked with hospital administrators to implement the program at the downtown cancer center over the last few months. Ommen said King's Daughters' Hospital has had a couple of pets visit for special occasion events in the past, but the Pet Partners program at the cancer center is the first organized program at the hospital.

Hospital administrators and patients see the health value of having a special pet visitor, Bentz said. In addition to the smiles Tripp creates, animal-assisted therapy can also lift spirits and take a patient's mind away from their own medical situation - if only for a little while.

"It's the idea of creating a whole healing environment," Ommen said.

To become a registered visiting animal team, Bentz and Tripp plan to go through a formal Pet Partners evaluation this month. The evaluation process includes several different obedience commands and allowing different people to interact with the animal without aggressive tendencies.

Bentz had to wait for Tripp's first birthday last week to register for the Pet Partners program.

"He had to be a year old before they'll even evaluate him," Bentz said.

Although the Pet Partner program at the cancer center is the pilot program for KDH, Pet Partners may be expanded to the main hospital building in the future, Ommen said.

 "He gives them something else to think about," Bentz said of Tripp. "He does as much for the patients as he does the staff."