Dog cheers up children at Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga

Dog cheers up children at Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga

December 25th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Handler and dog owner Sherry Gish, left, shows her dog Cleo, a full size poodle, to little Haigen Thompson, 2, Tuesday during a pet therapy day at T.C. Thompson's Children's Hospital. Kneeling is floor nurse Natalie Gibson. Child Life Specialist Lois Simpson stands at right.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Cleo, near left, a poodle, awaits as little Maci Wilson, 1, and her mother, Melissa, react to a visit by the therapy pet Tuesday at Erlanger's Children's Hospital.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Elizabeth "Caitlin" Puckett is too sick to leave the hospital for Christmas, so a dog and law enforcement officers with the Unwanted Motorcycle Club came to visit her Tuesday at Erlanger's Children's Hospital on Christmas Eve.

"The dogs are really friendly. They say, 'Hello, we love you. I'm trained to love you, but I still love you,'" Caitlin said.

At 16, Caitlin has no hair. She's been in a three-year battle with leukemia that has left her lonely and isolated from her school friends and family while she goes through treatment. She was so happy to see Cleo, a black, curly haired poodle, that she used food to coax her into her bed.

"It's just nice to have some company," she said while rubbing her fingers through the dog's hair.

Caitlin was among some 80 children who motorcycle club members visited at the hospital, leaving teddy bears with birth certificates and a house-shaped, cardboard box that club members called the bears' condo. The group, made of more than three dozen area police officers, firefighters and military men, also donated $6,650 to hospital.

"It's about spreading good cheer," said Lookout Mountain, Ga., police Officer Tommy Hedden.

Unwanted Motorcycle Club President Kyle Day said his purpose for joining the club was to participate in activities like the Christmas Eve hospital visit.

The motorcycle club went to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, intensive care unit, visited children in their rooms and in the emergency room.

Sherry Gish, the pet therapy dog owner, took Cleo to spend time with nearly a half dozen sick children in hospital rooms and greet a few children waiting in the emergency room on Christmas Eve.

Two-year-old Haigen Thompson ran to her hospital room doorway when she saw Cleo peeping in her door. Haigen, dressed in a purple Hello Kitty gown and red socks, said nothing for most of the visit, but smiled the entire time the dog was near her room. Gish left Haigen with a small stuffed animal that looked like Cleo before visiting the next child.

Pet therapy makes a difference, especially for Caitlin because she misses her pets at home, said Don Puckett, Caitlin's father.

Caitlin is thinking about being a nurse, veterinarian or zoologist when she gets older. She has two dogs and four cats at home.

Gish said the dog helps parents, too. Sometimes the children are asleep when she visits, but she still brings the dog into the room. Parents play with her and allow themselves to be temporarily distracted from their child's illness.

"Dogs just make you feel better," Caitlin said. "She is a companion. She's fun and soft and really sweet."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 757-6431.