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Therapy Dog Puts Patients At Ease In Sunnyvale Dental Office

SUNNYVALE (KPIX 5) -- Jennifer Krull is so scared of going to the dentist, even the thought of hearing a dental drill sends her into panic mode.

"My palms get sweaty," said Krull. "I have the nervous stomach. I probably make multiple trips to the bathroom, just that nervousness."

And Krull's not alone. By some estimates close to 10 percent of Americans avoid going to the dentist at all costs. The reason? Fear.

Enter Remy, a rescue pup turned therapy dog - the newest staff member Dr. Mark Burhenne's Sunnyvale dental practice.

Remy's job is to lounge on laps, give kisses and generally ease the dental anxiety of patients like Krull.

"He literally has purpose. He's doing something," said Dr. Burhenne. "He is literally waiting at the front door in the morning knowing where he is going."

Using therapy dogs to treat anxiety is not a new idea. Hospitals, schools and even some courts and airports now offer specially trained therapy dogs to help ease folk's fears of everything from medical treatments to flying.

While there are no hard numbers on how many dental offices are using therapy dogs like Remy in their practices, Dr. Burhenne thinks the idea is catching on.

"We are still experimenting," said Burhenne. "There are very few dentists that do this and so I am actually trying to write a little handbook for dentists on how to do this, how to integrate a dog into your practice."

Dr. Burhenne concedes that training Remy has been a long process. A process he says requires the right office, the staff and the right dog. Remy spent weeks being desensitized to loud noises like dental drills and cleaning tools. And since Remy is handled by multiple patients, Dr. Burhenne keeps the therapy dog on a strict schedule for baths and hygiene.

"When I am getting a cavity filled I make sure he is going to be here that day," said dental patient Kelly Fairlee. " I will ask."

And while Dr. Burhenne says most of his patients do request Remy's presence during their appointments, if someone comes in who is not ready for a dog in their lap, Remy stands down and breaks for a nap.

"He's a co-worker, said Burhenne. "He just happens to live with me."

Since Remy is a therapy dog, not a service dog, he wouldn't be allowed in restaurants or establishments which are required to accept service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA law applies to "working" dogs  who are specifically serving someone with a disability. Service dogs are generally bred and trained to assist with specific disabilities.


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