“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” – Doris Day

Three of the most popular volunteers at Moncrief Cancer Institute among patients, families and staff members alike, are four-legged friends who brighten the spirit of all involved—registered therapy dogs Bexar (pronounced Bear), Cokeita and Gracie.

It all began in 2017, when Volunteer Coordinator Charlene Colorado felt something was missing at Moncrief Cancer Institute. In April of that year, Charlene, along with other Moncrief Cancer Institute representatives, met with Donna Jett, President of Pet Partner’s Fort Worth chapter, Delta Hearts of Gold. Knowing the growing significance of pet therapy, the self-proclaimed dog lovers collaborated and decided to bring a new volunteer program to UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute. In August of that year, Cokeita, an Old English Sheep Dog, and handler Donna, made their first visit to the four-story cancer center off Magnolia Ave., and a volunteer program at Moncrief Cancer Institute was born.

A little over a year later, the program continues to grow.  In addition to Cokeita, registered service dogs Bexar and Gracie also provide their services at Moncrief Cancer Institute.

“It’s well received by everyone,” Charlene said. “It’s very calming. The staff probably loves it as much as the patients do.”

Each Therapy Dog Team visits Moncrief Cancer Institute twice a week for two hours. During their scheduled visits, the volunteers make their rounds—from visiting patients in the infusion rooms and greeting family members in the waiting room, to stopping by the offices of the staff. But at the end of the day, the patient always remains the focus.

“Pet Therapy is patient-centered,” Colorado said. “Patients are first. They come first in what we do. You need to build the patient up because that’s what the volunteer program is for. It’s all about the patient and the support the dog can give to the patient.”

The physiological benefits of pet therapy include reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate and decreased anxiety. Additionally, therapy animals have been found to have a positive effect on patients’ pain level and satisfaction with their hospital stay.

Many of the patients at Moncrief Cancer Institute look forward to the visits and have requested additional volunteer teams. 

As the program expands, the plan is to continue to recruit teams that are registered with Pet Partners--the nation's leading therapy animal organization with strict requirements. Each team is current on exams and immunizations required by Pet Partners, and is evaluated two years to ensure that the animal and handler are suitable for visits.