“Plum,” a therapy dog in the MSK Caring Canines program, is competing in the 2021 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on June 11-13. Plum, who is a black Flat-Coated Retriever, is owned by MaryJane Koren, a retired geriatric doctor who has been a volunteer in the Caring Canines program for more than 10 years. MaryJane, Plum and MaryJane’s dog “Topsy” have visited hundreds of MSK staff and patients at several of MSK’s Manhattan locations.
The 2021 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will air on FOX channels. A full schedule is here. Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #MSKCaringCanines and follow MSK on Twitter at @sloan_kettering. To donate to the MSK Caring Canines program visit: mskcc.org/plum.
The MSK Caring Canines program was started in 2007 and currently has more than 45 dogs and their owners who volunteer their time to bring joy and comfort to MSK patients and staff. One patient who was particularly impacted by one of our Caring Canines is Courtney Diana. Courtney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and received her treatment at MSK Bergen, where she met Caring Canine “CJ” and CJ’s owner Karen Koehler. The pair visited Courtney during her weekly treatments, and she began to look forward to chemotherapy because she would get to see CJ.
Karen is no stranger to the positive impact that the Caring Canines have when you’re a patient. In 2014, Karen was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and received a promising new treatment called CAR T cell therapy in a MSK clinical trial. While she was at MSK for more than a month recuperating from the treatment, Karen was visited by another Caring Canine “Buddy,” which inspired her to get her Golden Retriever CJ certified to be a therapy dog and join the program. Courtney and Karen bonded over their experiences, and love of dogs. Courtney hopes to one day have her own therapy dog named “Sloan.” When talking about CJ, she says, “this dog changed my life.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has largely been on hold. However, MSK is providing limited opportunities for virtual visits with our playful pups during this time. Current MSK inpatients and outpatients can email [email protected] to request a visit. When they’re able to visit MSK locations, the Caring Canines complete more than 8,000 visits annually across all Manhattan locations and many regional locations.