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They’re greeted with children’s smiles and cheers as a sense of joy spreads through the room. “We witnessed a pediatric rehabilitation patient speak for the first time since his injury when a pet therapy dog visited him,” recalls pediatrician, Richard Kang, MD, Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit Medical Director. While pets can easily invoke feelings of comfort, joy and playfulness, Dr. Kang also believes “there is a natural connection between dogs and humans, especially children.”
Pet therapy can also lead patients to become more interactive and lift their spirits during hospitalization, trauma and post-surgery.
Since 1990, these trained pet therapy dogs and their owners have visited patients in pediatrics, rehabilitation, behavioral health and other units. Not only do the dog-tors benefit patients, but they have a calming effect on our medical staff, nurses and other health care workers.
Pet Therapy Volunteer Ginny Mills coordinates the Paws that Refresh Pet Therapy Program which began in 1990. She conducts thorough health exams, which include behavioral tests to see how the dogs respond to loud noises, sudden movements and children. Particular to the hospital’s needs, Ginny makes sure that the dogs are not afraid of crutches and wheelchairs and that they consistently respond to verbal commands. And all pet therapy dogs that are accepted within the Pet Therapy Volunteer Program must be Pet Therapy certified.
Pet therapy has begun to expand to many hospitals offering a wide range of benefits for patients. Studies show that patients with quality time with pets show increased self-esteem, decreased stress, improvement of mood and provides a sense of well-being. Adults and children also saw decreased anxiety and help rehabilitation patients further develop lost motor skills.
“Unlike people, with whom our interactions may be complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention,” adds Mary Grim, Director of Volunteer Services at Northridge Hospital. “Animals make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. In other words, patients can let their guard down around pets.”
On Monday, October 31st these furry friends will meet in the Main Lobby at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital for a final parade to conclude their afternoon nurturing with patients and staff bringing joy through the next few months of the holiday season. Holidays can be tough especially with those going through challenges and loss. Nurturing pets also act as a conversation starter for behavioral health patients and remind us all that companionship and joy shared with loved ones also include those with whiskers and warm paws.