It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Animal Friends Volunteer and Pet Assisted Therapy advocate, Dawn Marcus, MD. Dr. Marcus was a diplomat of the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry and a professor in the Anesthesiology Department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She authored over 100 articles on chronic pain and headache, gave training sessions and was an invited lecturer nationally and internationally. Dr. Marcus was the author and principal investigator of numerous studies related to chronic pain. She was the author of 17 books and was a dedicated physician. Dr. Marcus had a keen understanding of the strength and true healing power of the human-animal bond. Through her 2008 book, Fit as Fido, Follow Your Dog to Better Health (iUniverse 2008). Dr. Marcus encouraged us to use our relationship with our dog to improve our general health.
However, at Animal Friends, she was known as “Wheatie and Toby’s Mom”. Since 2007, Dawn (to those who knew her) was an extraordinary volunteer in the pet therapy program. With either one or both of her cherished Wheaton Terriers, she made regular visits to UPMC Presbyterian and Montefiore Hospitals, the Hillman Cancer Center and many other venues. She loved to join in on the special holiday therapy visits especially with the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. Here, Dawn made certain that each Sister received a small gift from Wheatie. Such was the level of her generosity.
Moreover, Dawn exemplified the power of the human-animal bond. She often spoke that in her very early days of visiting with Wheatie, she was skeptical about what she was experiencing. She very quickly came to understand the small miracles that were happening when patients and her pets connected. A published author, Dawn often wrote of the simple connections that Wheatie or Toby would make, usually when it was felt that no one was looking. The nonchalant scratch of Wheatie’s ear from a doctor, busily reading, standing next to them in an elevator; the brush to the head from the reach of a fragile wheel-chair bound patient who wanted to pet the dog; or the obvious physical relief shown by hospital staff so happy to see the canines and have a furry break in their busy day. Meaningful connections made in silence.
Dawn liked to refer to herself as “Toby and Wheatie’s Chauffer”. She chuckled that her biggest role in the therapy job was “getting the dogs where they need to be.” But she was even more than that, she was an advocate for their work. In 2011, Dawn conducted and published a groundbreaking study, Animal-Assisted Therapy at an Outpatient Pain Management Clinic. (Marcus,et al, Pain Medicine, 2012). This study evaluated the effects of therapy dog visits at an outpatient pain management facility (compared with time spent in a waiting room). Data analyzed from 295 therapy dog visits (patients, family/friends and medical staff) showed significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients and improvements in emotional distress and feelings of well-being in family and friends accompanying patients to appointments as well as clinic staff. The study provided valuable, measurable data and served as the model for which the new Animal Friends, “Therapets”, program is based.
Dawn enjoyed coming to Animal Friends. She loved to participate in our training program, and on-site therapy visits. Most recently, she agreed to serve on the Peer Review Committee to oversee the successful implementation of the UPMC grant for the Therapets program.
Dawn was witty, intelligent, fun-loving, generous and a genuine delight. She will be deeply missed.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Canine Support Team’s Pawz for Wounded Veterans, P.O. Box 891767, Temecula, CA 92589-1767 or www.caninesupportteams.org. Arrangements by Simons Funeral Home, Inc.