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Animal assisted therapy is a type of therapy that involves animals in the healing process. Studies show that the presence of animals has a positive effect on human physiology and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. Among the specific benefits of pet therapy are the ways it motivates patients to participate in physical, occupational, or speech therapy, by assisting the patient to handle discomfort or pain. The non-stressful interaction with the pets also improves patients’ interactions with family and staff. Currently, only dogs are included in the program.
Individual bedside visits can be requested by the patient, the patient's doctor, nurse, therapist or a family member. There is an Animal Visit Liaison’s (AVL) at each facility that helps to coordinate visits. Visits can occur at various times during the weekday, evening, and weekend. Pet therapy volunteers encourage affection with the dogs, as they are for “hugging and petting” and are not considered service dogs.
The volunteer therapy animals and handlers are trained and nationally-certified. Volunteers serving in the pet therapy program receive in-depth training about hospital infection control practices and strict hand-hygiene measures are enforced to ensure cleanliness and adhere to regulations. Participating dogs are required to have up-to-date vaccinations and are bathed 24 hours prior to visiting. Ongoing assessments of the dog’s health and behavioral status are vital to maintaining a safe and sanitized environment for the patients, animals and staff. The therapy dogs are selected for their unique personalities and ability to interact with a variety of patient personalities. Pet therapy dogs are also identified with volunteer hospital identification badges to denote their affiliation with the program.
Judy Hoffman, Director of Respiratory Services at MRMC and Pet Therapy Committee Chairperson welcomes the program and its benefits stating, “Research has shown Pet Therapy in hospitals has added healing value and emotional well being for patients, visitors and staff by lowering blood pressure, decreasing pain and anxiety and providing emotional comfort. We are very excited to be able to now provide this meaningful therapy option to our patients, visitors and staff at all of our hospitals.”
Dignity Health of the Central Coast continually incorporates therapeutic and rehabilitative methods to serve our patients and foster an environment of healing. For more information, you may contact: Judy Hoffman (MRMC) at 805.739.3774, Jan Koester (AGCH) at 805.994.5462, or Jill Urmy (FHMC) at 805.542.6267.
Dignity Health, one of the nation’s five largest health care systems, is a 21-state network of nearly 11,000 physicians, 56,000 employees, and more than 300 care centers, including hospitals, urgent and occupational care, imaging centers, home health, and primary care clinics. Headquartered in San Francisco, Dignity Health is dedicated to providing compassionate, high-quality and affordable patient-centered care with special attention to the poor and underserved. In 2012, Dignity Health provided $1.6 billion in charitable care and services. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Sara San Juan