By Epi Fabonan III | Philippine Star – Mon, Nov 24, 2014

The children at White Cross Children’s Home in San Juan City applauded heartily when Dr. Eddie took center stage to show off his “therapeutic skills”.Alex, one of the children in the antiquated orphanage, volunteered to assist Dr. Eddie in this demonstration. After Alex throws a chew toy a few meters away from the stage, Dr. Eddie quickly walks to retrieve and give it back to him, to the delight of the other kids.

Dr. Eddie is not a graduate of any medical course from some big-name university, nor is he garbed in a white lab coat with a stethoscope dangling on his neck. He is a Labrador retriever and one of 14 Dr. Dogs of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and their visit to White Cross Children’s Home is part of an outreach activity.

Aside from Dr. Eddie, other Dr. Dogs include Dr. Carly, a toy poodle; Dr. Bonita and Dr. Kyna, both Chihuahuas; the Pomeranian Dr. Ginger; Dr. Adonis, a shi tzu; the schnauzer Dr. Cowler; and Dr. Lady, a Shetland dog.

Since 1997, these Dr. Dogs have been providing unconditional love and care to cancer patients, children with special needs, elderly people and other individuals in hospitals and other institutions who just need some companionship to give them hope in life.

“Therapy animals bring a semblance of normalcy for kids who are in hospitals or institutions and don’t have their families. They help children recover from the trauma of their past ordeal or cope with their medical condition. For adults, especially the elderly, they are constant companions and can assist in some of their daily tasks,” explains Anna Hashim-Cabrera, executive director of PAWS.

While The Philippine STAR was interviewing Cabrera, giggles and laughter resonated and smiles lit up the kids’ once-sullen faces as Dr. Dogs and their owners

The youngsters petted, caressed, even kissed the Dr. Dogs, some of them performing tricks like playing dead, rolling over, and giving paw shakes. On the grassy space beside the activity area, the ever-athletic Dr. Eddie could not seem to get enough of fetching chew toys thrown by kids lined up before him.

The Dr. Dogs seemed oblivious to the cacophony. Even when the occasional cat passed by, they remained well-behaved.

“Dr. Dogs are special dogs that have been found to have a calmer temperament, which is why kids are safe around them. They grew up in families where they are well taken care of. Even if you pet or put them in rowdy company, they can tolerate it. They are spayed, neutered, have complete vaccinations, and are cleaner than most people I know,” Cabrera says.

The rapport between children and the Dr. Dogs was simply fascinating to watch. Cabrera confirms that the same rapport in places where the Dr. Dog program has been to also existed. Some cancer patients became more confident and responded well to treatment after being visited by a Dr. Dog. No other interaction can replace the rapport Dr. Dogs have on their patients.

“Human beings tend to judge when it comes to dealing with fellow human beings. We have so many rules and preconditions when it comes to socialization like hygiene, physical condition, color, race, social class, and more. But to dogs, we are just somebody to play with, that’s why they have a therapeutic effect on us,” Cabrera concludes.

For their final act, Cabrera, the Dr. Dogs and their owners went up on stage again and gave a poignant song number about Dr. Dogs, to which the kids sang along: “Ako ay binisita / ng kakaibang doctor / Siya’y may apat na paa / at mahabang buntot / Siya ay dog…Dr. Dog! / Siya’y mabait / Nanggagamot ng may-sakit / at kung lunas / ang iyong hanap / ang reseta niya ay yakap!