Tomlinson, who joined the UCLA People-Animal Connection program 12 years ago, brings each of her two labrador retrievers, Daisy and Paco, once a month to visit patients in the adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit and the adolescent eating disorders program.
How did you become a PAC volunteer?
About 15 years ago, I started volunteering at the UCLA hospital gift shop and would occasionally see somebody in the program come by with a dog. I thought it sounded wonderful and wanted to be a part of it. I had just gotten Daisy and I knew she was born for this job. I've had dogs all my life, but I've never had one that was so good from the very beginning. She was quiet, didn't destroy anything and just had a great temperament. So I got all the information and we went to orientation. On her first visit, she was on the bed and curled up in the patient's arms, sound asleep.
What is involved in getting a dog into PAC?
The program has about 65 dogs and 60 human participants. This includes both the Westwood and Santa Monica campuses. You have to go through orientation and then your dog is tested in basic obedience commands such as sit, stay and come. The organizers also want to make sure your dog is not going to freak out in the hospital or be ruffled by an emergency or gurneys rushing down the hall. They also have tests with noise, or someone coming up quickly from behind and hugging them. Once your dog passes those tests, you do supervised visits for a couple of months to make sure you and your dog become familiar with the routine. The dogs have to be bathed within 24 hours of the visit and you have to offer hand sanitizer to anyone who touches your dog. When you go room-to-room, you take sheets and put them on the chair and the bed for the dogs to sit on. When the visit ends, you take those sheets and deposit them in the laundry and use more sanitizer. It's very sanitary and organized.
Tell us more about your dogs.
Daisy, who is 14 years old, has been in the program for 12 years and is now the oldest member. She has visited with hundreds of patients, nurses, doctors and staff and is well known throughout the hospital. The usual retirement age is 10, but she is not ready to retire. She loves her job! She came from a breeder who happens to work at UCLA and who told me that Daisy's mother was about as close to the "perfect house pet" as you could get. As it turned out, the whole litter was extraordinary. Two of Daisy's littermates became seeing-eye guide dogs. Paco, who is 10 and not related to Daisy, is the goofy one at home, but at the hospital he is known as "Mr. Perfect." He has participated in the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital Halloween parade and with the students at Powell Library during finals week.
How do patients respond to the dogs?
Usually, when patients see you coming, they ask you to come to their room. And the visits can be as therapeutic for the family as for the patient. Sometimes when we're visiting, you can look at the monitor and see the patient's blood pressure going down as they pet the dog. As a doctor once observed, visiting with your dog is one therapy you can give someone that has no negative side effects.
What do you like best about taking your dogs on hospital visits?
When I leave, I really feel as though I've made somebody happy. A couple of teenage girls loved Daisy so much they made a mural of her, which I keep at my house. I do group visits with kids in the lounge and they are always so excited to see us. I worked with a trainer to teach Daisy and Paco a lot of tricks, which the kids really enjoy. They can wave bye-bye, roll over, sit pretty, shake, high five, turn around and go night-night. They can also say their prayers, and play peekaboo by hiding their eyes.
What are your other hobbies or interests?
I'm a ceramist; I have a home studio and am a member of a studio in Santa Monica. I am on the board of the UCLA Health Auxiliary and am in a book club. I enjoy cooking, baking, working out and I walk the dogs every morning. I also love to travel. Last year I went to Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Galápagos Islands. In March, I'm going to Laos, Thailand and Beijing. I also love spending time with my family.
What are some of your hobbies?
Taking care of oneself is important, especially when taking care of others. This is why I find cooking and spending time with family and friends very therapeutic.
Learn more about the UCLA People-Animal Connection »