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Fetching canine care for cancer patients

February 10, 1996
Web posted at: 4:40 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Ed Garsten

DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- Candy-stripers can make a hospital stay bearable with a magazine or book or an occasional extra pillow. And if you need Chester the candy-striper, all you got to do is call, "here boy." He is a canine candy-striper, sweetening the days of people feeling pretty sour.

Chester, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, rides the elevators and trots the halls of St. John Hospital as if he is on the payroll, but he's just a volunteer.


His owner, Lisa Waugaman, suffers from balance and vision problems following a bout with encephalitis. The two became a team three years ago, courtesy of the service group Paws with Cause.

"Chester is primarily a balance dog. He's trained to get the phone, pick things up when I drop them. He's also trained to help me with curbs, and he's a visual aide for me too," Waugaman says.


He's also her best friend, and friend to cancer patients at St. John's. Waugaman calls Chester "a guy in a dog suit" because of his human characteristics and the way he can get people to communicate.

"When he came in the room, the faces just lit up and there was no one else but them and the dog, and sometimes they don't open up to us or family and friends, but Chester they talk to," says registered nurse Helen Michaelson. (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

"What Chester and I wanted to do was just go visit people and cheer them up on the inside," Waugaman says.

Chester visits a patient who can't talk, and the sight of the dog prompts her to immediately converse with Waugaman on paper. "Oh, you had a shepherd? Great dog, great dogs," Waugaman says after reading the note.


Chester's owner says the dog has had a dramatic effect on patients. "I've seen forms of miracles absolutely. I've seen people who have given up, try again, have a sense of humor, care again. Sometimes I say nothing and Chester will do it all or the person will confide in Chester as if I'm not even there," Waugaman says. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)

His work done, Chester hangs out in the hallway and listens to a little hospital gossip while taking a hard earned lap in his water dish.

After a long day on their six feet, Chester and Waugaman's dogs must be barking, but still, it's worth it, they both would tell you.

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