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Dempsey Dogs Offer Support to Cancer Patients


On Thursdays, Forest the Great Dane enters the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, Maine, where he spends hours cuddling with cancer patients and their loved ones. As one of the “Dempsey Dogs,” he is part of a group of five specially trained canines dedicated to providing much-needed companionship during what can be a trying time.

Katelynn Davis, the communications and marketing director for the Dempsey Center, knows that those who come into the center are facing many challenges. Whether they are in the middle of active treatment, in recovery, or taking care of someone who is sick, they need all the support they can get. The center provides free holistic services such as counseling and massage to anyone fighting cancer and their families.

The Dempsey Dog program for cancer patients is designed to complement these services and bring an added layer of comfort to them. By providing cuddle therapy and emotional support, the dogs offer a moment of peace and relaxation during a tumultuous journey.

“That chance for them to just take a break and enjoy the time with a Dempsey Dog is incredible,” remarked Davis, according to NEWS CENTER Maine. “You can see it on their face, you can see it on their shoulders as they’re relaxing, and it’s just really beautiful to see.”

The heartwarming impact of Forest’s therapy

Forest is always ready to provide comfort to anyone who needs it, be it after acupuncture or during counseling sessions. According to Tina Buckley, Forest’s handler, dogs just have that sense to provide support and TLC to humans in need. 

While Forest provides therapy, Buckley takes a back seat, holding his leash as he does his job. The duo has offered therapy at the Dempsey Center for two years, despite Buckley’s initial “gloomy” expectations about the place.

But it was far from it. Buckley said, “I’ve seen some amazing things in here. There’s one woman who would get on the floor with him and wrap her arms around him while her husband was getting acupuncture. And later on, when he had passed, she came back and she would sit on the floor with him again. It was just really sweet.”

Shortly after their interview at the Dempsey Center, NEWS CENTER Maine had the opportunity to encounter that woman — Pam Hurd. She shared her story of how she met Forest back in 2022 during a counseling session with her husband, Herbie. Although Herbie has since passed, Pam still goes to the Dempsey Center for counseling. But now, she schedules her appointments around Forest’s visits. Pam said, “There’s just something about a dog, you can sit on the floor and rub him and there’s no expectations.”

Dempsey Dog program for cancer patients receives ‘pawsitive’ feedback

The popularity of the Dempsey Dog initiative is soaring thanks to rave reviews from satisfied clients. The program now boasts an impressive roster of canines including an Australian Shepherd, Poodle, Bernedoodle, and Bullmastiff. These furry companions are a regular sight in care centers, hospitals, retreats, and the Dempsey Challenge event as well. Their impact ranges from fleeting moments of comfort to profound and lasting connections.

As Hurd looked into Forest’s eyes, she confessed, “He holds all of the secrets. All my secrets, huh? On my good days and my not-so-good days.” Forest was more than just a furry friend — he was a comforting confidant.

Meanwhile, Buckley beamed with pride as somebody exclaimed that seeing Forest was “the icing on the cake.” She further expressed, “To hear things like that, you know when somebody says you made my day, and it’s such a simple thing to do.”

It’s these small moments of joy that make their hard work worth it. That said, becoming a therapy dog requires extensive training and certification. These canines are not just any ordinary dogs, they are superheroes in fur coats!


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