By Jim Shilander
San Clemente resident Barbara Telesmanic has made a career out of helping children and families going through the most stressful time of their lives as a nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange. But some days, she has help from a member of her family.
Buddy, a five-year-old pitbull, was rescued by Telesmanic and her husband three years ago, from a shelter in Baldwin Park. The shelter has a very high kill-rate for the dogs that come in, but Buddy’s sweet disposition won over the volunteers at the shelter.
“He was actually in the euthanasia room twice,” Telesmanic said. “But some of the volunteers found a way to get him out.”
Telesmanic said it was clear that Buddy had a hard life. He had several major injuries when he was adopted, including removal of one canine tooth. “We were told that he was an owner-surrender,” Telesmanic said. A man had apparently dropped him off one day, and the next day a woman came in begging them not to kill the dog. Telesmanic said the staff at the shelter believed the man who surrendered the dog was battering the woman, and Buddy had been serving as her protector.
The pet adoption agency that the Telesmanics actually adopted Buddy from fell in love with him too. Telesmanic said that with one dog already in her home, there was a question about whether Buddy would fit in.
“She just told us to let her know, that if he’s not for you, we’ll keep him ourselves. But we fell in love with him immediately.”
Once Telesmanic and her husband got Buddy home, she said, it became clear that the dog had a wonderful attitude.
“The second we got him he was a happy little camper,” she said. “He just has a sweet disposition and a love of people. I thought he would be perfect as a therapy dog.”
Telesmanic said the hospital’s therapy dogs really do have a therapeutic benefit for patients, if only by helping to raise the spirits of patients and their families. Since she works in the oncology department, she sees very tough cases and how the dogs can help.
“I thought he’d be perfect,” she said of Buddy. “The therapy dogs really have to love people, be able to approach people and handle chaotic situations.” She said she then checked to see if there were any restrictions on the breeds eligible. Finding none, Buddy was checked out and got the highest level of certification for therapy dogs right away. That means he can go anywhere around the hospital.
Telesmanic said there are all sorts of breeds, ranging from Chihuahuas to Great Danes, who act as therapy dogs.
Before Buddy came to the hospital, however, Telesmanic said she was preparing herself for the looks, questions and remarks that might be coming based on Buddy being a pitbull. She and her husband have three. “I had to prepare myself. I’m well aware of people’s perceptions of pitbulls. But it’s been 100 times better than I expected. You’ll hear things sometimes, but most people are receptive. Families will pull us aside and say they’re happy, because they have pits at their home. Moms have told me that they were afraid of pits and with one visit they’re head over heels for Buddy. Dogs are individuals, just like people.”
For the children in particular, she said, it can be the best of experiences to be around a friendly dog. “Kids are so innocent. They see a happy dog come over and give them kisses.”
Some families, she said, had actually started scheduling their appointments around the times that Buddy was in the hospital. This included a number of patients who’d been in the hospital long-term, such as those receiving bone marrow transplants, who can be in the hospital for a month. Many of those children don’t have a chance to see their own dogs during that time, making their visits with Buddy all the more important for them.
Buddy handles the crowds he draws at the hospital remarkably well, Telesmanic noted. “Six or eight kids will run up to him, some will try and ride him like a horse. Not every dog an handle it, but it’s like ‘the more the merrier’ as far as he’s concerned.” This is often the toughest part of the testing process for a therapy dog, she said, and other dogs can be disqualified or restricted from service if they can’t handle it.
Telesmanic is active in promoting efforts to change perspectives of the pitbull as a breed. There will be such an event, “Peace, Love and Pitbulls,” Saturday, November 10, at Dana Point Harbor beginning at 8 a.m. In addition to a fun run/walk, the event will include safety demonstrations to teach children how to approach dogs, as well as to promote responsible dog ownership.