January 15, 2010

New pet visitor team has strong Vanderbilt roots

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Patient Patricia Hollins spends a little quality time with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s newest pet visitor team, Allan Bass and ‘Maddie.’ (photo by Anne Rayner)

New pet visitor team has strong Vanderbilt roots

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's newest pet visitor team is already bringing smiles to the faces of cancer patients and families.

The duo is comprised of a miniature Australian labradoodle named Maddie and her human friend, Allan Bass Jr.

“My wife's priorities for a dog were simple — no shedding and a relatively small size,” said Bass. “My priority was a Labrador retriever.”

So the Nashville couple settled on a puppy with a mixture of poodle and Labrador traits — evident in Maddie's silky-soft fur and happy demeanor.

Then Bass decided he should share Maddie's loving disposition with others, and he immediately thought of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

‘Maddie’ works her magic on Ann and Joe Hutton at the <a href='http://www.vanderbilthealth.com/cancer'>Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center</a>. (photo by Anne Rayner)

‘Maddie’ works her magic on Ann and Joe Hutton at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. (photo by Anne Rayner)

His wife's breast cancer was treated by physicians at Vanderbilt-Ingram, and there was another family connection.

His father, Allan D. Bass, M.D., now deceased, was chair of the Department of Pharmacology for two decades. The elder Bass also served as acting dean for Biomedical Sciences during 1973-74.

Bass' mother, Sara, was a graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

“My parents molded me and taught me to do things for others,” said Bass. “They told me that only about 10 percent of people make the world go around.”

So he has focused on being one of the 10 percent who make a difference, and he decided Maddie could help.

He and Maddie enrolled in a Delta Society-sponsored pet partners program, which trains human-animal teams for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

Every pet visitor team at Vanderbilt must undergo this rigorous training, and Bass and Maddie received theirs through Nashville-based Therapy ARC.

With their Delta Society certification under their collars, the duo started visiting nursing homes and recently added VICC to their circuit.

Whether it's Maddie's beautiful brown eyes, Bass' soothing voice, or some combination of the two, the new team is already winning friends among the Cancer Center's staff and patients.