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This Place Has Gone to the Dogs

October 13, 2010
by Bobbie Byrne
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Pet therapy, just what the doctor ordered

Picture this scene. You walk in the door and immediately get accosted for something you did or did not do. Just after hanging up your coat, you realize you have spilled coffee on your shirt. You fall into your chair realizing that you really do not have any time to put your feet up as you have a significant deadline looming.

You then give a big sigh of relief as you pet the dog. You can actually feel your blood pressure fall and your neck muscles relax as your fingers run through the soft coat. The dog leans up to nudge your side and you laugh. Her wagging tail gently slaps the side of your leg. The stress melts away.

Is this at home, sitting in a comfy chair with the family pooch? Nope. This is my office at the hospital.

We have a program called Animal Assisted Therapy, and it is serious business around here. The pictures of the dog therapists and their handlers are up on the wall, just down from the headshots of the Hospital Board and the Executive Team.

When owners apply to volunteer, the dogs are screened for proper temperament. The dogs and their owners are trained on how to visit patients. They wear their own hospital badge on their collars. Patient visits only last five or 10 minutes but the impact can be long lasting. Dogs can make people relax and smile. Dogs take their mind off their diseases and pain, at least temporarily. The owners hand out cards with a picture of the dog on it so the patient can remember the visit.

When discussing the program, the focus is always on the patient, as it should be. I believe though, there are significant employee benefits.

The hospital business is tough business. In IT, our workdays can be long—often starting with the doctor meetings before sunrise and ending with the business office meeting toward the dinner hour. We are tired and sometimes a little cranky. After dealing with a difficult server or a difficult user, having a little Pet Therapy of my own is just what the doctor ordered.

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