Once a week, dogs parade through the center greeting patients with kisses and wagging tails.

Hope abounds for cancer survivors thanks to a program that brings a little extra love home to patients. Mary Bird Perkins Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge operates a dog fostering program for cancer survivors called Fostering Hope. The program connects survivors with dogs in need of foster homes.

Director of Patient Support Services Brandon Reeves said the program arose from Mary Bird Perkins' love for animals. He said the center wanted to carry on the spirit of that love through a weekly pet therapy program in partnership with the LSU Vet School. Once a week, dogs parade through the center greeting patients with kisses and wagging tails.

"It brings a whole different energy," Reeves said, "There's a peace and calm that comes with the excitement."

Fostering Hope became an extension of the pet therapy after seeing how much joy the dogs could bring to the patients. The center teams up with Companion Animal Alliance and Friends of the Animals Baton Rouge to bring the dogs to survivors at no cost to them. The program covers the cost of vet fees, food, and even provides kennels and other pet-caring supplies.

Of course the fur babies get a huge kick out of it, but it also benefits the foster parents. Reeves said studies have shown caring for animals can reduce blood pressure and anxiety. He noted this is the first program of its kind in the country, and other cancer centers have started inquiring about how to set up similar programs in other states.

Fosters can also adopt through the program if they want to become the fur-ever home for the pups in their care. There's no fee for adoption either, as the center works to reduce any barrier survivors may face to bringing home the newest member of their family. Reeves said it can be a tremendous help to survivors figuring out life after treatment.

"When they finish, they're looking for something to be the new normal," Reeves said, "We're trying to help patients define who they're going to be."

He said it can be refreshing for survivors to take care of someone else, after being cared for themselves for so long. That's why the program doesn't exclude anyone. It's open to patients from other cancer centers, not just those at Mary Bird. It even services the entire capitol region.

"It's a service to the patients, but it's also a service to the community," said Reeves.

The very first foster pet in the program was Hope, named for the program itself. Hope was fostered by two-time cancer survivor Barbara Keller. She has since been adopted by a couple who work as truck drivers and take Hope on adventures across the country.

The program is funded through donations that cover vet costs and adoption fees. For more information about Fostering Hope or to make a donation to other survivor initiatives, visit marybirdlake.org.

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