akronchildrens.org

Spats’ visits are golden to childhood cancer patients

Bob Mattei works with Spat while visiting a patient.

Bob Mattei works with Spats while visiting a patient.

Spats might be named after a gangster from the movie, “Some Like It Hot,” but there’s nothing sinister about this Golden Retriever and card-carrying member of the Akron Children’s Hospital Doggie Brigade.

Janet and Bob Mattei

Janet and Bob Mattei

During the 5 years that his handlers Janet and Bob Mattei have been sharing this love of a dog with our patients, Spats has made a big impression, and that’s not just due to his large size. He’s a regular on Wednesdays in the hematology/oncology unit, where patients often spend days at a time hospitalized.

“One of Spats’ admirers was having his last chemotherapy treatment, and he told us he was really going to miss seeing Spats,” said Bob, who lives in Bath. “He even brought Spats a huge bag of Beggin Strips, his favorite treat, as a thank you present. It was really touching to see the connection Spats made with this kid and that they would think to do something like that for him.”

Everyone likes giving Spats treats, and he clearly enjoys the ritual. He knows what to expect when he visits Linda Knight at the hematology/oncology unit nursing station.

As she hands him his well-deserved treat, she talks about the difference these Doggie Brigade visits make for the kids battling bleeding disorders and cancer.

“Our kids are here for long periods of time and often they are missing their pets at home,” said Knight. “They love this opportunity to cuddle with these dogs, watch them do tricks and tell them their secrets.”

After visiting with the patients in the inpatient unit, the Matteis walk Spats over to visit the kids undergoing outpatient treatments in the hematology/oncology clinic.

There, he’s a familiar face and welcomed with open arms by Leah Merriman, a 9-year-old from Stow who is undergoing her 34th chemo treatment for brain tumors. Everyone laughs as Bob shows off Spats’ amazing ability to add and subtract.

Spat-2

“The dogs are really special to me,” said Leah. “I like to pet all the dogs.”

Leah estimates that she has about 20 Doggie Brigade trading cards at home. Janet pulls out a special stash of Spats’ trading cards they had created especially for collectors like Leah. They feature Spats in different poses and even as a puppy, when he was the runt of the litter.

Her mom, Gina, says she appreciates the canine visits as much as Leah. They have a Labradoodle at home and she’s always impressed with how well behaved the Doggie Brigade members are.

“It is a nice break in her day,” said Gina. “She’s here for a couple of hours each chemo treatment and it really is nice to have them stop by for a visit.”

Spats is one of more than 90 dogs in the Akron Children’s Hospital Doggie Brigade. The program is the second oldest pediatric pet visitation program in the country and is celebrating its 26th year.

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