Daisy is well known around the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Patients call her by her first name. Their faces beam when she enters a room. But you won’t find her name on the center’s employee directory.
Daisy is a four-year old dog. To be precise, she is a Cockalier, a designer breed that is part Cocker Spaniel and part King Charles Spaniel. Daisy and her owner, Linda Luttbeg, are regular volunteers at the Cancer Center.
They often encounter patients in the radiation waiting area, the chemotherapy room or the lounges. Their appearance often brightens the faces of those waiting for treatment.
“I usually ask them if they would like to pet Daisy,” Linda says. “Most do, and they will pet, hug or cuddle her. Patients love her.”
The feeling is mutual for Daisy. Her repertoire includes a few tricks, like giving a high-five with her paw or doing puppy push-ups to the delight of patients.
But Daisy is more than a trick dog. The puppy underwent training by Therapy Dogs, Inc., a professional organization that certifies dogs for therapy work. The rigorous training required one year.
“It is a very thorough program,” Linda explains. “The dogs have to meet strict training requirements so they will be able to work around patients in a hospital setting.”
Daisy, a black-and-white Cockalier with some patches of brown, is always full of surprises, Linda laughs. Once, a patient in a wheelchair commanded the dog to jump up and Daisy leaped onto his lap.
“When people meet Daisy, they talk about their own dogs. They will often show pictures of their pets on their smartphones. Daisy helps patients relax and remember good times,” Linda says.
Daisy’s appearances are good therapy for patients. And for Linda, too.
Linda is a cancer survivor herself. She had a cancerous tumor removed from her pancreas in 2012. The tumor was spotted early, and no chemotherapy or radiation was required.
Linda partially credits Daisy for the early detection.
“A month before the diagnosis, Daisy just came and laid across my stomach and bladder. It was something she had never done before. Somehow, she sensed there was a problem,” Linda recalls.
After her own experience with cancer, Linda was determined to give back to others with the disease. Doing something with dogs seemed like a natural way to help others.
“I always had a dog growing up. I spent 32 years as a Physical Education and Health teacher in St. Louis,” she explains. Combining her love for dogs with her health training provided Linda the perfect outlet.
“Volunteer work is very rewarding,” Linda says. “And it is rewarding for Daisy, too. She loves going to the Cancer Center.”
And the Cancer Center patients love seeing Daisy and Linda.