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Service dog helps woman get through cancer treatments thanks to ‘super suit’

In these trying times, super heroes, in all shapes and forms, have stood out for their assistance to those in need. Not all heroes wear capes but as part of heightened safeguards against COVID-19, this therapy pet wears a ‘super suit’ to help a woman through her cancer treatments.

We have hailed medical workers, sanitation personnel, delivery services, as well as restaurant, pharmacy, and convenience store owners and staff for their role in providing essential services so that the rest of us can stay home and remain socially distant. But this particular champion, however, stands out – on all four legs!

Early on in the pandemic, everyone was made aware that while no one was safe, some people were particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. These included people with underlying conditions such as respiratory illnesses, diabetes, and heart conditions.

Those who were immuno-compromised were at risk as well. Seven months into the global health crisis, individuals who continue to seek medical treatments have had to adjust to a world in the grip of COVID-19.

When the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., Sydnee Geril, 25, decided to stop bringing Tulsa, her therapy pet, to her chemotherapy treatments. Tulsa was a great comfort during these sessions, but Geril decided to undergo chemotherapy on her own out of an abundance of caution.

While experts generally agree that COVID-19 couldn’t be spread through animal fur, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends additional safety measures to prevent infection.

A resident of Ocala, Florida, Geril was diagnosed in October 2017 with Ewing’s sarcoma. The rare bone cancer typically affects children and young adults. While in treatment, one of the few things that made her feel better during hospital stays were visits from therapy pets.

These specially trained dogs provide affection, comfort, and support to people, particularly in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, and sites of high stress, such as disaster areas.

After nine months of treatment, Geril went into remission. She was inspired to get her own therapy pet, and thus adopted Tulsa. Geril’s cancer, however, returned after eight months of remission. From a therapy pet, Tulsa is now training to becoming a personal service dog, which entails greater responsibilities and commitment.

Aside from being a live security blanket, the dogs learn to cater to the personal needs of their owners, which is why service dog training takes two years to accomplish.

After missing out on chemotherapy sessions due to COVID-19 safety considerations, Geril discovered a way for her therapy pet to rejoin her treatments in late May. This involved a onesie specifically for dogs – which looks like super suit!

The Shed Defender helps control shedding, and has allowed the German shepherd to stay clean and get back to work caring for Geril. “I’m so happy to have her back. I honestly did not realize how big of an impact she had until I didn’t have her,” she said.

Available in the market for four years, the Shed Defender wasn’t designed to deal with a pandemic. A set of booties ensures that the therapy pet is mostly covered from head to foot.

The full coverage reduces the need for bath time for Tulsa after each hospital visit, which can be tiring work for someone as sick as Geril. Instead, all she needs to do is wipe Tulsa’s face and wash her suit.

Tulsa wears the suit when she accompanies Geril to chemotherapy treatments at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, where service dogs, guide dogs, and therapy pets are welcome as long as they are well-behaved and remain under the control of their handlers.

The therapy pet is particularly important since Tulsa can alert Geril when she is about to pass out, which often happens due to chemotherapy and Geril’s fear of needles.

Service dogs, through their sense of smell, recognize the chemical change that goes through the human body before a fainting episode. When she detects the scent, Tulsa puts a paw on Geril’s leg, informing her that she has between 10 to 30 minutes before she starts to feel dizzy.

Geril realized how reliant she was on her therapy pet when she had to initially pull Tulsa out from work due to the pandemic. During that time, her health and quality of life declined drastically.

“I went into a wheelchair full time because I was afraid to be up and walking around because the hospital’s rules are you can’t have any visitors,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk passing out with nobody around.”

With Tulsa back to work in the Shed Defender, Geril worries less and has become more confident. She shared, “It’s huge; it’s given me my freedom back greatly. I can go out by myself now.”

It took some time for the therapy pet to get used to the super suit, but Tulsa has gotten used to the attire due to plenty of playtime and positive reinforcement training.

“It’s a new world now and we’re finding new ways to cope with it, and I’m just so happy that we can find new uses for products like that,” Geril said. Geril is certainly grateful that with the suit, Tulsa can be with her full time again.

“She has absolutely blown me away at how quickly she picked everything right back up. It’s like she never missed a beat.I can already see my quality of life improving. I’m so blessed and thankful to have my girl by my side again.”⠀⠀

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