Dog helps lift patients’ spirits

Published: February 20, 2007 | 5595th good news item since 2003

Whenever Jane Koseki gets a visit from Simba, a 70-pound golden retriever, her mood changes.

Suddenly, she’s not a patient at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, learning how to walk after losing her toes to diabetes.

She’s a dog-owner desperate to be reunited with her 11-year-old Shih Tzu, Hubby.

“I miss my dog so much, it was just wonderful to hold him,” said Koseki, who hasn’t been home in more than a month. “Just to be able to feel Simba gives me the reassurance that my dog is waiting for me at home.”

Simba is the first and only resident therapy dog at the rehab hospital, which treats nearly 8,000 disabled or injured patients a year.

His first day on the job was Feb. 6.

Under the supervision of therapists, Simba works five days a week, visiting patients and helping make their lives a little easier.

He even gets mandatory vacation — one week every three months.

With Simba making the rounds, the hospital hopes it can raise awareness with patients about the benefits of service dogs.

“These service dogs are trained to help patients with disabilities, and this is an introduction to that service,” said Dr. Amendeep Somal, a physiatrist at the rehab hospital. “We see this as a resource for our patients.”

Service dogs assist people with physical disabilities. They are trained to retrieve objects, open doors, turn on lights and pull wheelchairs.

It can take up to two years and $10,000 to train these dogs, who can learn more than 100 commands.

But more than physical support, they can also provide much-needed companionship and comfort.

Dennis Okada, 62, of Waipahu, was paralyzed from the waist down in a scuba-diving accident in 1986.

He’s had his service dog, a black Labrador named Jetson, for about two years. He can’t imagine life without him.

“All of us have days where we don’t want to get out of bed. But then the dog looks at you and says, ‘Take me walking,’ ” Okada said. “He really keeps me going.”

Like all resident therapy dogs, Simba doesn’t live at the hospital.

He’s cared for by Dawn and Mike Ebesu, who work as an occupational therapist and physical therapist, respectively, at the hospital. Simba lives with them in Hawai’i Kai.

“He really lifts (the patients’) spirits and takes their focus away from dealing with their problems,” said Dawn Ebesu, stroking Simba’s golden coat. “It’s nice to see a friendly face instead of someone who’s going to give them medicine.”

The Ebesus had to complete an intensive two-week training before adopting Simba, learning the verbal and physical commands the dog had already learned as a puppy.

“We were told if the dog doesn’t do it, it’s not his fault,” said Mike Ebesu, laughing. “It’s ours.”

Published in Life
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