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PLANO (CBSDFW.COM)— Sporting their best summer attire, 21 therapy dogs visited patients at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano for the first-ever “Dog Days of Summer Parade.”

Popular doggie fashion choices in included sunglasses, leis, Hawaiian shirts, goggles and bathing suits. Some dogs went for a sporty look, wearing swim trunks and inner tubes. Other canines opted for more stylish looks — wearing pink dresses with bows and legwarmers.

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

The 45-minute parade gave the dogs the opportunity to bring a little summer sunshine to thsoe hospitalized. Patient Billie Perot said, “I love it. It makes you happy when you see them and the dogs are happy too.”

All of the dogs are part of Baylor Scott & White’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program. According to coordinator Linda Marler, the program has existed since 1985. She says the program has grown from having just one dog to more than 100 animals at 23 North Texas facilities. “I place anywhere from 30 to 40 dogs a week in Baylor hospitals across the systems,” she said. “The dogs do several different things at different sites, it just depends on where we go.”

Marler has volunteered for Baylor Scott & White since 1989. Her 8-year-old Golden Retriever, named Eli, is the fifth dog in the program. For the parade, Eli chose to mimic a banana split, wearing a picnic table topped with ice cream scoops and a banana hat.

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

Marler said, “Eli excels at working with comatose and brain-injured folks and working in ICU’s. He seems to know when people really need him.”

About six months ago, Eli greeted a non-responsive patient in her hospital room. When the woman felt Eli’s presence, she opened her eyes for the first time and reached out for the dog. “It really makes you feel good, the daughter couldn’t stop thanking us for being there.”

Research shows that therapy dogs also help to lower patients’ heart rate and blood pressure, decrease the need for pain medication and shorten hospital stays.

Marler enjoys coordinating the volunteer program because of the benefits she witnesses not only for the patients, but also for the dogs and volunteers. “The dogs get a benefit because they’re out and about in the public and getting loved on, and the volunteers get a benefit because they’re giving back to the community and getting to show off their very best friend.”

Dogs and owners in the animal assisted therapy program must go through rigorous testing and training in order to participate and regularly volunteer with the Baylor program and Marler says they’re always looking for more dogs to participate.

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

(credit: Ed Lowder/CBS 11 News)

The “Dog Days of Summer” event continues until next Tuesday, July 18, when Baylor Plano will announce the winning dogs from a Baylor Plano employee vote.

Three dogs will win the titles of the Most “Summer Spirited Dog”, the “Hottest Dog” and the Most “De-LIGHT-ful Dog”.

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