Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Volunteer Therapy Dog Birdie Speaks about Animal Friends' Cancer Caring Center
Hi there! My name is Kaitlin Hilinski. I am the Therapeutic Services Program Assistant here at Animal Friends. One of the many programs I manage is our monthly visits with The Cancer Caring Center. Each month (when the weather’s nice!) we welcome families whose lives have been affected by cancer. Children of all ages are invited to join our Therapets team and an art therapist. We talk about feelings and share struggles that many of us face when dealing with a family illness or loss. While we gather for a sad purpose, we often leave feeling refreshed and relaxed, or at the very least that our feelings are valid and shared.
This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of our regular therapy dogs; Birdie Salvador. Birdie is an 11 year old Border Collie. She and her mom Ruth visit nursing homes, elementary schools, and of course, Animal Friends.
Kaitlin: Hi there Birdie, good to see you as always. *editor’s note: there was a pause here for the required petting. Birdie patiently demands to be petted by almost every human she meets.* Now then, would you please introduce yourself for our readers?
Birdie: Yes, I’m a therapy dog named Birdie and one Saturday a month I volunteer at Animal Friends with the Cancer Caring Center’s free program for children coping with cancer in the family.
K: Perfect! Can you tell us a little bit about how your day at Animal Friends gets started?
B: Sure! I greet the children and their families as they arrive. While the adults speak with the Cancer Caring Center’s therapist, the children and I spend time together.
K: I think I’ve seen you playing games with some of the boys – It’s my understanding that you’ll do tricks for ice cubes?
B: OH man. You bet I will. They’re my favorite treat. Well, besides cherry tomatoes. My mom says ice is great because it doesn’t have any calories. I don’t know what a calorie is, but I think it’s fine that they’re not in ice cubes.
K: So what else do you do after you play with the kids for a while?
B: Playtime is followed by lunch prepared by an Animal Friends volunteer. Dessert is usually homemade cookies or brownies. I can’t have most of the people food, but boy does it smell good. Yum!
K: We’ve talked about food a lot here, Birdie. Let’s discuss the session a little more, huh?
B: Oh, okay. Right, well after lunch I join the families as they meet with the therapist. I try to help everyone feel comfortable enough to share during the session. I sit or lie nearby ready if anyone needs a warm and furry friend.
K: That’s really great of you, Birdie. I know the kids, and their families, really enjoy your company.
B: Well, when we say good-bye I always hope the children will be better able to cope after their Saturday afternoon with the therapist and me.
K: I’m sure they will, Birdie. There’s nothing like the unconditional love of an animal to help us feel better when we’re sad or scared. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, and thank you to your mom, Ruth, for translating!
Birdie and Ruth: You’re welcome!
If you’d like more information about The Cancer Caring Center, or their therapy sessions at Animal Friends, please contact Stephanie at 412-622-1212 or
Our next session is scheduled for April 26th at 1:00pm. Advanced registration is required so we know how much food to make – and ask Birdie, it’s a great lunch!