By Patty Kim - August 25, 2022
If you’re at Moffitt Cancer Center on Wednesdays, you might be lucky enough to rub paws with Rory, the Shetland sheepdog. The mini version of Lassie is hard to miss, especially with all the oohs and aahs.
Rory is just one of the many pups in Moffitt’s Pet Therapy Program, which features certified animals and handlers. While studies show that animal assisted therapy can decrease anxiety and pain and improve emotional well-being, the benefits are pretty obvious from watching Rory in action.
He’s a bit of a local celebrity in the Thoracic Clinic, where his dad works as a medical oncologist. Dr. Ben Creelan is investigating tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy, a type of cellular immunotherapy that has shown success in melanoma, for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. TIL therapy extracts immune cells inside tumors, grows billions in a lab and reinfuses them to attack the cancer.
No wonder Rory feels comfortable enough to hop up on the check-in stations and type up a couple of quick emails. It’s where everybody knows his name.
“It’s fantastic. Dogs always have a calming effect on people, and this is the perfect setting for it,” said John Carr, who got to spend time with Rory recently in the Thoracic Clinic waiting area. “We’ve been coming here for years and have seen a number of pet therapy dogs, and they’ve all been great. The special attention pays off.”
Rory knows how to make the rounds at Moffitt, visiting several clinic waiting rooms, as well as bringing smiles to patients in their hospital rooms.
John Samples was on the mend from robotic surgery for his stage 1 lung cancer, resting in his hospital room at Moffitt, when Rory stopped by. Samples couldn’t believe his eyes. He used to have a Sheltie of his own.
Samples and his wife, Susan, welcomed Rory, who made himself at home, jumping up on the bed to cuddle.
“We lived in a condo at the beach, but they don’t allow dogs, so we sold it. We are dog people!” Samples said. The couple has granddogs in Virginia.
Rory is 100 percent dedicated to volunteering at Moffitt but wishes his mom, Blythe Creelan, had more time to spend with patients. He takes his weekly two-hour shifts very seriously.
“Rory loves his ‘job.’ I have to be careful to only say the words ‘job,’ ‘work’ and ‘Moffitt’ on days we are volunteering as Rory gets very excited and will wait by the door to get in the car if I say any of them. He knows he has to be calm at work, and it’s so cute how seriously he takes his job!” his mom said. “The moment I put on his therapy vest, he has this very proud demeanor and knows exactly what to do. The Pet Therapy Program is an all-around win for everyone involved as both myself and Rory love spending meaningful time at Moffitt with all the wonderful employees, patients and families we interact with. We hope that we can bring some comfort and joy to everyone we see.”
When he’s not at Moffitt, Rory loves doing agility. He’s been training for several years, but he’s not competing yet. He’s solid on all of the obstacles except for the weave poles, in which dogs must navigate 12 poles 24 inches apart in a zigzag pattern. Rory is spot on until the 11th weave pole, so he’s working on that.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Rory when you’re at Moffitt. You just might steal a high-five or cuddle.
Breed: Shetland sheepdog (Sheltie)
Color: Sable and white, like Lassie
Weight: 32 pounds
Volunteering at Moffitt for: Three years
Favorite Treats: Cookies
Favorite Toy: Anything another dog is playing with, which leads to my favorite game: keep-away!
Likes: People, cuddling, learning new things
Dislikes: Ladders, anything on wheels
Hobbies: Agility! I’m not competing just yet. I still need to master the weave polls. And I’m training my human to give me commands ahead of time (I like to know two obstacles ahead at all times).
Fun Fact: Say picture, and I’ll stare at your camera. I live for glamour shots. I also know how to spin and shake paws.