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The doc and his dog: Retired neurosurgeon makes the rounds at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center with therapy pet


National Therapy Animal Day is April 30

Chandler, AZ — April 29, 2019 — After retiring to the Valley, Michael Freed, MD, began looking for volunteer opportunities.

He found one at the end of a leash: Spencer, his Golden Retriever-Poodle mix.

“Several people said, ‘Your dog would be a good pet therapy dog,’” says Dr. Freed, 67, who resides in Chandler. “He has the perfect golden Retriever personality of just loving people and loving to be touched.”

Dr. Freed spent most of his career as a neurosurgeon in Massachusetts but now makes weekly rounds with the 70-pound Spencer at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center. “I’ve spent most of my life working in hospitals and I do understand the need for pet therapy for patients, and so it was easy to fall into,” Dr. Freed says. “People just love this dog.”

April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day. In a 2018 issue of “News in Health,” the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that some studies have shown positive health effects of therapy animals but added that the results have been mixed. “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure,” the NIH reported. “Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”

Chandler Regional has 26 dogs in its pet therapy program and is always looking for more. “Our PAWS teams calm and comfort those who are nervous and miss their own animals when they are here with us,” says Lori Mercer, the hospital’s volunteer services supervisor. “Spencer is one of our Goldendoodles; he has a gentle, calming presence and is frequently requested by staff, patients and families for visits.”

Dr. Freed says therapy animals had not been introduced into the hospitals in which he worked, but one allowed visits from patients’ animals.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Dr. Freed says. “People will tell you that they pet the dog for a few minutes and just feel so much better.”

Spencer gets a bath and blow dry every Thursday, and on Friday mornings he walks the halls at Chandler Regional with Dr. Freed for two hours, the hospital’s prescribed time limit for therapy animals. They enter patients’ rooms if requested, but typically don’t have a set routine. 

“We see patients. We see visitors. We see outpatients walking through the hall,” Dr. Freed says. “There’s a high stress level for the staff, and so we see them too. I kind of feel like we treat all of them.”

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