Vital Signs: Animal Therapy
PREMIERS MARCH 2ND, 2020 AT 6PM
At 6:15am, Casper is up and ready for work. He eats some breakfast, and puts on his uniform and badge. Then he gets in the car and heads off to the hospital, where he joins countless doctors and nurses tending to sick children. But Casper is not your ordinary employee. He happens to have four legs and a fluffy tail.
Dr. Gupta explores the world of animal-assisted therapy. From lowering stress and anxiety to reducing the risk of heart disease, dogs like Casper and a host of other animals have been scientifically proven to help our health. Plus, see how tapping into a dog’s sense of smell may actually help us detect cancer.
Vital Sings: Animal Therapy
Premieres: March 2nd, 2020.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
00:24 Sanjay Gupta:
If you could do something for just 15 minutes that would help reduce stress and improve your mood, wouldn’t you be up for it? I know I would. Especially since it’s pretty easy. Simply spend time with an animal. This is Vital Signs. I’m Dr Sanjay Gupta.
Over the years, the benefits of animal-assisted therapy have been well-documented. Everything from lowering anxiety to reducing the risk of heart disease. A recent study from Japan says this connection might even be hormonal.
00:50 When we lock eyes with our dogs, it releases oxytocin. It’s a powerful neurotransmitter linked to your mood. It’s the same hormone released with mothers and infants, so maybe it’s no surprise that animal therapy, and dogs in particular, are so popular in hospitals all over the world.
1.10 It’s early morning in Atlanta, Georgia. Lisa Kinsel is getting ready for work. And so is Casper. A little breakfast, a little grooming, and then it’s time to put on his work uniform. He does this routine four times a week, as a full-time employee with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
01:32 He has his own badge. He’s even on call.
LISA KINSEL, Volunteer Services, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
1.36 Lisa Kinsel:
He is in work mode right now. When Casper has his vest on, and he knows he’s working, he has this very calm demeanour.
So, when the vest is on, he’s a different…
He knows he has a job to do, and he does it really well.
1.54 Sanjay Gupta:
Casper and Lisa arrive at Scottish Rite Hospital just after 7.30 in the morning. At the hospital entrance, Casper takes the lead.
02:06 The first time you sort of, made rounds, if you will, with Casper, what was that like? You’re walking around with Casper, what was the reaction from patients, staff, anyone?
I probably cried every day because, for my job, I was not on the frontlines previously.
02.21 Come on! Good boy!
And all of a sudden I have Casper. And I’m going into a patient room, meeting families.
Hi! I’m Lisa, this is Casper.
Hey! Hi, Casper!
2.33 Lisa Kinsel:
And their reaction, how touched they were, how thankful they were… So, all of a sudden, I was on the front lines, feeling like I was a part of – and we are a part – of the whole clinical team.
2.46 Teenage patient:
2.49 Sanjay Gupta:
Dr Dan Salinas is the Chief Medical Officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In 2009, Lisa and her team pitched the idea of a full-time animal therapy programme, called ‘Canines for Kids’.
DR DANIEL SALINAS, Chief Medical Officer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
03:02 Dr Daniel Salinas:
We saw that we were filling the need, that children and families had with an intermittent pet therapy programme, but we saw that children were asking, and families were asking for more contact with a dog. They didn’t want to wait a week to have to see the dog again.
3.23 Sanjay Gupta:
A programme called ‘Canine Assistance’ trains the dogs for 12 to 15 months. Casper was the first four-legged full-timer on staff here. Lisa met him when he was 18 months’ old.
03:37 Lisa Kinsel:
When I first met Casper, he and I had a connection. We just knew that we were meant to be together so, we started working.
When you describe Casper, he’s got… I know it’s the eyes, there’s both the sympathetic and empathetic and there’s all this emotion in his face. What did you notice? What was it about him?
04:02 Lisa Kinsel:
I noticed that he’s like a big sponge. He takes it all in. And I think that’s what makes him work so well with the patients. And he knows that that child is maybe anxious, maybe he’s in pain. So when we have a visit like that and we leave the room, it takes him a few minutes to decompress.
How do you know that he’s decompressing. What’s he doing?
04:27 Lisa Kinsel:
He will literally just shut down. He will stand there. He will look at me and go ‘mum, I need a moment’. And it’s that non-verbal look that I can tell he really needs a break.
This affects him, this job.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Walking around the hospital with Casper, I can tell he’s at home here.
Does Casper know where he’s going?
O, yes, most definitely.
Looks like he’s leading.
I keep saying that. He really doesn’t need me much anymore!
05:00 Sanjay Gupta:
When we come across Nikky’s room, Casper is all business. There’s a little boy in here, recovering from surgery, who can’t wait to visit his four-legged friend. Patiently, Casper waits outside, while Lisa lays out a gown across Nikky’s bed to help protect him from any germs.
5.17 Lisa Kinsel:
Come on, come on up here and see Nikkolas. Good boy!
How are you feeling today, Nikkolas?
Feeling alright, not anything hurt or anything? No? Good.
05:29 Lisa Kinsel:
You look like you feel better today. Do you? Yeah. I don’t think you were feeling too good yesterday, but you look like you’re feeling better today. You look happier today.
5.41 I think it’s Casper that does that, personally.
Katrina Smith, Nikkolas’ mother
5.45 Katrina Smith:
He just had a permanent feeding tube inserted into his tummy yesterday. He has problems gaining weight. It started out when he had severe coeliac disease and so, he hasn’t put on any weight.
05:56 Sanjay Gupta:
Katrina Smith is Nikky’s mother. She’s seen first-hand the impact Casper’s had on her son.
6.03 Katrina Smith:
He was shut down yesterday. He had no smiles, he had no voice, but when Casper came in he stopped and just smiled and just pet him and just sat there and looked like he had no pain in the world.
6.13 Sanjay Gupta:
That smile’s pretty… it tells a story.
6.18 Sanjay Gupta:
While Casper is the first full-time service dog here, there are now 11 dogs on staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The Hospital says it’s the largest full-time Animal Therapy Program in the United States.
06:31 What was the biggest concern, what was the biggest hurdle in terms of getting a consistent program like this?
6.37 Dr Daniel Salinas:
I think the biggest hurdle was that it was a new concept. We started this. It had not been done elsewhere. We had to convince some people that it was going to be ok, because we already had had therapy dogs present in our facilities for years and years and years.
652 Lisa Kinsel:
Good morning! Here we go!
06:57 Sanjay Gupta:
What about staff? The staff in the hospital, did they also benefit from the program and Casper?
7.04 Lisa Kinsel:
Very much so, and that was one of the things that we really didn’t think about, when we started this. We started recognising how much he was actually doing for the staff. I got a phone call one day, and they said ‘we need Casper for upstairs in Intensive Care’ and I said, ‘ok, I’ll be up there, what room?’ and they said, ‘it’s not a room, it’s for the doctor’.
7.25 The doctor had lost a patient that morning, and she really wanted to see Casper, so that’s when you kind of go ‘wow, he really is all-encompassing for everybody that’s here’.
07:35 Sanjay Gupta:
It really affects you, doesn’t it?
7.36 Lisa Kinsel:
It does. It does – deeply.
7.41 Sanjay Gupta:
Casper and the other therapy dogs work with all the different teams: pain management, physical therapy, pre- and post-surgery, even MRIs. If a little patient is scared of the MRI machine, Casper will hop up there, and show them it’s ok.
07:57 You hear a lot more about dogs being able to detect, for example, when someone has a low blood sugar. There’s been a couple of reports about dogs being able to sniff out potentially a return of cancer. What do you think about those reports? Do think that’s real?
8.12 Dr Daniel Salinas:
I think it’s real. In fact, I know it’s rea,l because we had one of our dogs, Lancelot, who was walking past a room, not where he was going, and suddenly he stopped, and he made his sign that something’s wrong and in that examining room was a child who, unbeknownst to everyone else, had high blood sugar and so, it’s real.
After a long day of successful visits, it’s time for Casper to head home, and like Lisa said, when that vest comes off, Casper is just a normal dog again, playing in the grass, eating dog biscuits. Tomorrow, he’ll be ready to do it all over again. To share some of that Casper magic with anyone who needs him.
08.58 It’s a tough question, I think, in some ways, to ask, but how do you know when… not just on any given day, but overall, Casper’s ready to not do this sort of work anymore? Is there a time?
09:09 Lisa Kinsel:
Hopefully I’ll know when that day comes when he just says ‘I’m done’. But so far, I don’t see any signs of him giving this up. As a matter of fact, there are nights when we walk out of the lobby to go outside and he won’t get in the car. He doesn’t want to go home.
09:28 So, I think he’s going to continue to do this just as long as he possibly can.
0934 Sanjay Gupta:
There are so many ways animals can help our health. Recovery is one thing. But what about the diagnosis? Turns out, the powerful noses of dogs might be able to help us there, too.
09:52 The benefits of being around animals are pretty obvious. But that’s not the only way our four-legged friends are helping our health. Elephants: they provide crucial clues in the fight against cancer for humans. Even though they have 100 times as many cells a we do, elephants rarely get cancer.
A study found that cancer mortality rates for these animals is less than 5% – that’s compared to 25% in humans. Scientists believe the key is an excess of a certain protein that inhibits cancer cells.
10.14 Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, dogs are helping us detect cancer. My colleague, Elizabeth Cohen, travelled to the UK to meet with these amazing dogs and their bio-sensing noses.
10:29 Elizabeth Cohen:
Wrestling in the grass. Chewing on a rawhide. Chasing each other in a game of tag. These dogs seem typical, but don’t let the cute faces fool you: these dogs are training to save our lives.
Dr Clare Guest is CEO of the charity Medical Detection Dogs, based in England. For years, she’s claimed she can train dogs to smell cancer cells.
1.58 And now, her dogs are taking part in one of the largest clinical trials of canine cancer detection.
Dr Guest is a believer because she says her dog, Daisy, caught her own cancer, six years ago.
11.13 Clare, you said that a dog caught your cancer?
DR CLARE GUEST, CEO, Medical Detection Dogs
11.16 Clare Guest:
That’s right. I was actually working on a cancer detection project so, working with the dog during this time. She started to behave slightly differently around me, and she kept staring at me and nudging into my chest and it led me to find a lump.
11:30 I got the lump checked by a GP and I was referred to a specialist and yes, I had a diagnosis of a very early grade breast cancer, and I was told had not had my attention draw to it by Daisy that my prognosis would have been very poor. By the time I’d have felt anything it would have been very advanced.
11.49 Elizabeth Cohen:
What did you think, when a dog caught your cancer?
11.52 Clare Guest:
Well, I already knew by that time, of course, that I could train dogs to do it, and I knew cancer had an odour, and I knew that we could train a number of dogs to detect the disease.
12:04 Of course, what I didn’t know was it was going to impact me personally. But in a way it led me to believe even more strongly, and the fact that my life had been saved inspired me to keep going and to train more dogs.
1215 Elizabeth Cohen:
Dr Guest started Medical Detection Dogs in 2008. The scarity trains multiple teams. Medical Alert Assistance dogs, for example, paired with diabetics, to sniff out changes in blood sugar levels, and the cancer detection dogs.
12:30 Why do we need dogs? There are plenty of tests to detect cancer.
12.34 Clare Guest:
There are plenty of tests to detect cancer, but sadly, not all of them are very reliable or very accurate. There’s a great need for improved diagnosis. Treatment’s improving all the time, but sadly, diagnosis isn’t.
1249 Elizabeth Cohen:
Rob Harris is training dogs to smell prostate cancer.
12.53 Rob Harris:
So, this is Lucy. She is a Labrador cross Irish Water Spaniel.
12.58 Clare Guest:
They take urine samples from eight different patients. One of the eight patients has cancer and it’s the dog’s job to sniff it out.
To think that a dog might be able to smell the cancer in just that tiny sample.
13.11 Rob Harris:
It’s absolutely amazing.
Ok, so it’s number 4. That’s the one the dog is supposed to sniff out.
13.15 Rob Harris:
That’s correct. So, Midas will come in. She’s a Whitehaired Hungarian Vizsla. She’ll work with my colleague, Mark.
Would you like to move the position?
13.33 Clare Guest:
Yeah, let’s move it all the way on the other side. Catching it at number 1 is the most difficult, because she won’t have anything else to compare it to on this round, so this is a real test for Midas.
13.50 Elizabeth Cohen:
Wow, she got it!
She certainly did.
13:53 Elizabeth Cohen:
She did. On the first try. What is she smelling?
That’s the big question, that’s the thing we don’t know.
13.58 Elizabeth Cohen:
Scientists suspect volatile chemicals evaporate and send off an odour. We can’t smell them because we have a measly 5 million sensors in our noses, but dogs have up to 300 million sensors in their noses.
14.12 Clare Guest:
The thing that Midas is able to detect, she’s got this nose at the end of her face, but she’s also got another… it’s called the Organ of Jacobson in the back of her throat and that’s screening volatiles as well.
14:22 Elizabeth Cohen:
Any dog has a powerful sense of smell, but hunter dogs, like Kiwi – she’s a yellow Labrador – are more easily trained.
A recent, smaller, study found dogs catch cancer with more than 90% accuracy. That’s higher than many traditional diagnostic tests.
14.39 We’ve known for many years that dogs can detect cancer. Are we finally getting to the stage where maybe this will come into actual use in a hospital?
14:48 Clare Guest:
For the first time I really believe that what the dogs are able to do may in fact be used by hospitals. That doesn’t mean that dogs will be in a hospital, but what the dogs will do is that we’re working in a training centre like this and the samples will be transported to the centre, where the dogs give their answer and the results are sent back.
So, yes, I think that we’re moving forward to a time when dogs will be used in a diagnostic process but not by going into hospitals themselves or sniffing around patients.
15.13 Elizabeth Cohen:
In three years, we’ll know the results of this large study, using 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients in England.
Do you think one day dogs like Midas could save lives?
15:22 Clare Guest:
I really believe that dogs like Midas can save lives. She might have a fluffy coat and a long waggy tail, but she is a very, very, very sophisticated bio-scenter.
15.34 Sanjay Gupta:
From dogs to… llamas? You’ve probably never seen a therapy animal quite like this before.
15:48 Welcome to Portland, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. This city is known for having a bit of a quirky personality. But even the people of Portland are surprised to see this: your eyes to not deceive you. That is a llama and an alpaca, walking through downtown.
16.08 Lori Gregory:
Everybody just needs a little happiness and joy in unexpected places.
16.13 Sanjay Gupta:
Photos, hugs. A lot of laughter. That’s what Rojo and Napoleon can do. And it’s what Lori Gregory and her daughter Shannon have been sharing with the Portland area for eight years now, and counting.
LORI GREGORY, President, Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas
16:29 Lori Gregory:
Hey, llamas! Napoleon! Come here, get your breakfast.
16.37 We never dreamed that we’d be doing work with llamas and alpacas. We moved to Vancouver from Oregon 20 years ago and bought two and a half acres and basically got tired of mowing the lawn, all the acreage, and so we went to the fair to look for some animals to keep it eaten down, and just kind of were intrigued with the llamas, and I found that they were very easy keepers – we could go out of town and leave them for a week or so with just fresh water and they’d be very low maintenance.
17:05 And so my daughter Shannon and I actually joined for eight – she wanted horses. Instead, she got llamas!
Shannon and Lori went llama-shopping at a farm. A red-coloured llama caught their eye immediately. Rojo – Spanish for ‘red’ – would become their first llama.
17:24 Lori Gregory:
Rojo just stood out from all the other llamas that were there. All the other llamas were out playing with their buddies in the pasture, and Rojo was only four months at the time, and he was just following the owner around her yard when she was doing chores.
17.36 Sanjay Gupta:
That was 13 years ago. Over that time, Lori says, while he certainly grew, Rojo now weighs more than 400 pounds – his personality never changed.
17:47 Lori Gregory:
Very people friendly, very touchable, enjoys being around new environments and things like that so, we are just so thankful to have him to take around, because everybody falls in love with him.
18.01 Sanjay Gupta:
That’s what stuck out to Lori and Shannon the most. He brings joy to everyone he meets, regardless of age, gender, or just about any other qualifier you can think of: Rojo broke through it all. So when someone suggested they get him certified as a therapy animal, it was an easy decision.
18:18 Lori Gregory:
It was a pretty extensive process to get him certified eight years ago. We’ve done over 1000 visits since then and added four other llamas, and three alpacas. [We] go out almost every day of the week now.
This is kind of their trade mark, their little ankle bling. That, and their little hats they wear.
18.41 Sanjay Gupta:
Lori and Shannon started a non-profit called Mountain Peaks Therapy, Llamas and Alpacas. Today, they are headed to visit a nursing home with Rojo, the llama and Napoleon, the Alpaca.
18.56 Sanjay Gupta:
The residents here at Emerson House suffer from severe dementia, but the moment this unique group steps off the elevator, there are smiles all across the room.
SHANNON HENDRICKSON, Vice President, Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas
19.06 Shannon Hendrickson:
It’s really neat, taking a giant, 400-pound animal into… everywhere. A lot of times you get a look of shock at first. They don’t really understand why a llama, who’s dressed up, is in their home. And then you get this intrigue.
19:34 So it’s a shock, and then they’re like, ‘I want to come feel it. I want to feel how soft he is. He looks cool.’ And then, when they put a carrot in their lips, and he gives them a kiss, it’s just instant, pure joy.
These ‘carrot kisses’ are popular. Llamas don’t have any upper teeth, just bottom teeth, so they don’t bite.
19.45 Shannon Hendrickson:
It happens a hundred times during every visit, and it’s the same, it’s just seeing people so giddy, and just being the source of that joy is really – it fuels me and it’s exciting.
19.59 Sanjay Gupta:
The Mayo Clinic says animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
20.06 Smiling and laughter are also good for your health and longevity. The simple act of smiling has been shown to activate the happiness centres in your brain, impacting your mood. Even a forced smile will do it.
20:18 But I can tell you – with Rojo and Napoleon around, no one is forcing a smile here. This is pure joy.
LINDSEY BRETZMAN, Life Enrichment Director, Emerson House
20.26 Lindsey Bretzman:
All of our residents here at Emerson House have dementia, so not all of them are able to communicate verbally. But once they see the animals, it becomes a whole new experience.
They touch the animals, and giving the llamas kisses, a lot of our residents lit up today, I had residents who don’t speak English, singing in their native tongue to the animals and touching the animals.
20.50 Lori Gregory:
For me, it’s been life-changing. When we first got certified for therapy with Rojo, I thought ‘oh, this will be fun, to share our special llama with these people, and go into places like that’.
21.01 And then, the first visit we did, Shannon was with me and she had him on the lead, and was taking him into a rehab facility. And I was kind of back, on his backside with all the nurses and people in the facility, and as she would take him in along the bedsides, I would hear them getting so excited, and saying, ‘wow, Harold hasn’t spoken in a month and I heard him say that he’s cute!’ Or, ‘look, Helen is trying to sit up and she hasn’t moved for…’
21:29 It’s like every room we were going in to, it was like seeing miracles happen.
21.36 Sanjay Gupta:
Rojo is becoming a bit of a celebrity around here. Shannon has even written a children’s book about him. For this mother-daughter team, it’s another way to share Rojo with those who need him, or just need a smile.
21.53 Lori Gregory:
Once we started taking them out, it was like ‘I have to do this. I can’t not do it, you know, so it is a purpose and a life calling and so, I’ll be doing it till I can’t anymore, and then Shannon will bring him to visit me at the senior home. She’d better!
22:13 Sanjay Gupta:
Those smiles are infectious, don’t you think? It’s incredible the difference a visit can make from Rojo and Napoleon, or from Casper, the therapy dog. Animals seem to have this almost magical power about them. If you have a pet at home, give them an extra treat today. With all they’re doing for your health, they’ve earned it. For Vital Signs, I’m Dr Sanjay Gupta.