Tigard Rotary Club recognizes Darlin for her work as therapy animal

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Rotary District Governer Sharon Starr presents Darlin with a medal for earning the Paul Harris Fellowship for her work as a therapy animal in area hospitals.When the Tigard Breakfast Rotary Club recognized Darlin Lamb for her tireless public service, there were a couple slight glitches. Rotary District Governor Sharon Starr had to shorten the ribbon that held the honorary medal, noting Darlin’s small neck. Starr struggled to affix a special pin to Darlin’s harness.

“Definitely, this is an unusual presentation,” Starr said. “It’s a first for me.”

The Paul Harris Fellowship, named in honor of Rotary International’s founder, is generally given to people. But for Darlin, the club was willing to make an exception.

The 7-year-old “golden doodle” has spent the past five years visiting area hospitals and nursing homes as a therapy dog. She’s a companion animal who volunteers two days a week to comfort the ailing.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that her owner and trainer, Benjamin Charles “Chuck” Lamb, volunteers her time. But Darlin hardly seems to mind.

“As soon as the doors open to come onto the inpatient unit, she’s scrambling and can’t wait to get pet and visit the kids at the hospital,” Cindy Millard, a certified child life specialist with Shriners Hospital for Children - Portland, said of Darlin during the ceremony. “She’ll hop up on the bed for kids that aren’t feeling well to reach down and pet her.”

In a given week, Darlin and Lamb make the rounds not only at Shriners, but at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Compass Oncology and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, all in Portland. They also visit Providence Newberg Medical Center and Hearthstone Senior Living Facility in Beaverton.

“You can even see on some of the monitors how much it decreases the stress of the children,” Millard explained. “It reduces stress, but it also integrates something that is a part of normal life into the hospital setting, so it helps reduce fears, and brings joy.”

Pet Partners, a nonprofit formerly known as the Delta Society, certifies therapy animal teams to visit medical facilities, schools and libraries — any place where humans can benefit from the release of oxytocin, commonly known as “the bonding chemical,” or an extra release of dopamine, popularly called “the reward chemical,” which both naturally occur in the human brain.

Studies show positive interactions between humans and animals can result in both — which is why “therapy animals” are becoming increasingly common in hospitals throughout the country. Millard said Shriners has been offering such therapy for the past 13 years.

Lamb had long known he wanted to train a therapy dog — and it didn’t take long for him to realize Darlin was up to the task.

“She’s worked out for my wife and I in our old age,” he said of the nurturing canine.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Darlin is the first non-human to win the Paul Harris Fellowship at the Tigard Rotary Club, due to her work as a therapy animal in local medical facilities.Before they adopted Darlin nearly eight years ago, Lamb and his wife had always owned Labrador retrievers, which Lamb describes as “very gentle dogs, the same as golden retrievers are.” The “poodle” in their new dog’s lineage reduced the inconvenience of shedding, he said. Labradors and “golden doodles” both share a pronounced — and childlike — love of toys.

Darlin’s early training meant attending “regular schools,” which Lamb defines as any obedience classes Petco or PetSmart offered. Along the way, he managed to break her of her normal doggy habits.

Therapy dogs call for a less punishing training regimen than that expected of rescue dogs or K-9 officers. In fact, Lamb didn’t start training Darlin until she was about 4 years old. But in the therapy dog world, a little age, a little experience — and a mellow temperament — is actually preferable.

“Most of the service dogs that I encounter are 12, 13 years old,” Lamb said.

No one can accuse the enthusiastic Darlin of being a bore, but she has also proven quite the comfort to even the youngest of patients.

“I’ve had her with children who were within five minutes, maybe three minutes, of going into surgery,” Lamb said. “It surprised me (staff) let her right up on the gurney and everything.”

In such cases, he often leaves Darlin and her new friend alone.

“(Hospitals) want the child and the dog to totally (bond),” he said. “That’s all they’re supposed to be thinking about.”

Darlin’s visits may be as short as five minutes, or as long as a round of chemotherapy takes.

“When it comes to oncology, where they’re getting their infusion or what have you, the dog will lay down and want to take a nap,” Lamb said. “Sometimes I’ll leave her there for a half an hour.”

But Darlin remains a true friend to a much older crowd, too. Lamb recalls bringing her to visit a patient in the intensive care unit at Providence Newberg. After he left Darlin with the older woman for no more than 15 minutes, a nurse informed him the patient’s blood pressure had dropped significantly.

The woman was surrounded by visitors at the time, Lamb recalled. In hindsight, it was not surprising that he later found out the patient passed away the night after Darlin’s visit.

Lamb recalled the patient had asked him, “Oh, you brought my dog to see me?” — and that, instinctively, he didn’t argue about Darlin’s ownership.

“The reason, of course, all the people were there was they thought it was going to happen at almost any second,” Lamb said of the woman’s death. “So basically, they think that she left this world having her dog with her. So all in all, it worked out very well.”

Starr agreed.

“A world of peace and good comes closer to reality today as Darlin becomes a Paul Harris Fellow,” Starr said.

She added, “To me, she’s not just a pet. She’s a working member of society, she really is. She’s a contributor.”

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