Source: The News-Enterprise
As Maggie, a golden retriever, walked the halls of Hardin Memorial Hospital with bells around her neck to deliver Christmas cheer, people couldn’t help but stop what they were doing to pet her.
Maggie is one of the multiple animal therapy dogs now visiting patients at the hospital.
The Hardin Memorial Health Foundation approved a $32,500 request last year to establish a pet therapy program at HMH called Providing Unconditional Patient Support or PUPS.
The money allowed HMH to employ a program manager/dog handler and covered the cost of a full-time facility dog who regularly visits patients.
Courtney Buis, who is in graduate school for clinical psychology, was selected for the position of pet therapy volunteer coordinator. She is Maggie’s owner.
Animal-assisted therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal to help patients recover from or better cope with health issues such as pain, heart disease, cancer, dementia and mental health disorders.
Jessica Jasper, chaplain at HMH, said studies show patients who interact with therapy animals experience reduced pain, anxiety and blood pressure along with a lower heart rate.
Each therapy dog available to do visits is featured on a brochure with their photos. Buis said the amount of requests for a visit is huge.
Since she has started at the hospital last year, Buis said she has started making pet trips to LifeSpring, HMH’s psychiatric unit.
“Before, a lot of our volunteers, they didn’t always feel as comfortable going, so I wanted to show everybody that is a great place to be visiting, too,” she said.
Recently, Buis said they had a patient who was very upset and nothing could calm her. Before giving her medicine to deal with the issue, the staff asked Buis to bring the dog.
“I brought the dog in and stayed probably about 30 minutes or longer. She went from completely escalating to just calm,” Buis said. “She just sat, petted the dog and then went and took a nap.
“It was just so awesome to be able to see that,” she added. “It helped while we were there and still had an impact when we walked off the unit.”
Jasper said that event coincides with the pitch to the Hardin Memorial Health Foundation to pay for the pet therapy program and try dogs instead of drugs. Buis said dogs are almost like “little natural anti-depressants.”
“They do all kinds of cool stuff for your body,” she said. “It’s physical and it’s mental at the same time, the effect that they have.”
Buis also said the pet therapy helps staff as much as patients.
Jasper said the pets also bring laughs, something you not often heard in the halls of a hospital. Some of those laughs come by dressing the animals up for the holidays. On Halloween, one of the dogs dressed as a mail carrier, delivering packages.
“It’s just hilarious to see a dog dressed up. And laughter is really great, too, because you don’t really hear that a lot in the hospital,” she said. “There is not a lot of laughter. A lot of tears, not a lot of laughter.”
Buis said dogs have a consistent presence at the hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays, visiting patients and staff.
More pet therapy volunteers are being sought. Dogs need to be certified through a therapy animal organization or they can have their AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate and be up to date on all of their records. The dog must be at least 1 year old.
If people are interested, reach out to Buis at 270-706-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s something that if people have experience they can do it, or it’s something that they have a dog they think would be really good but have never done it before, we can get them set up,” she said.