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Therapy Dog Visits Patients At The ‘U’, Helps With Recovery

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Patients at one Twin Cities hospital are getting treatment from an unexpected visitor.

Sonja, a Bernese mountain dog mix, makes the rounds at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

She spends just a few minutes with patients, but both patients and doctors say it does a world of good.

At the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Shelly Beffa has spent the last two and a half weeks fighting lung cancer.

“It’s going to be a long process, but well worth it,” Beffa said.

Medication and science fuel her recovery though oxygen and antibiotics.  But, one day every weekend, Beffa gets a different kind of treatment.

She’s visited by Sonja, who makes the rounds with her owner, Doctor Rafael Andrade.

“She loves it.  Once we tell her, ok, let’s go to work.  She’s so happy.  She sits, waits for us to put the badge on,” Andrade said.

While Andrade focuses on the health care during his patient visits, Sonja has a much different job description.

“It’s like a nice warm fuzzy blanket.  If you’re scared, you just give that puppy a hug,” Beffa said.

“It just cheers them up.  I’m sure that has an effect on their recovery,” Andrade said.

Sonja’s calm, bedside manner is a dose of relaxation and a needed escape when a patient’s health is out of their control.

“It’s a relief for them to be able to just let that go and be there, present with the animal, with the dog.  They love it,” Andrade said.

You could call it therapy for the soul and in Beffa’s case incentive to heal.

“Just something to look forward to.  I’ve got my dog at home waiting for me to get there,” Beffa said.

Dr. Andrade specializes in thoracic surgery and Sonja sees patients at all stages of recovery.

She did go through training to become a therapy dog.

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