Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Patient’s Best Friend? Pooches Play Happy Role in Recovery

Man’s best friend...the incomparable Lassie, Frazier’s Eddie, the first-dog, Bo. There’s something special about a human and his dog and the invisible bond that ties the two together forever. Having a dog as your friend means a lot of cuddling, playing and maybe a little drooling. Canine companionship has been proven to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

There’s no reason why the benefits of pet companionship shouldn’t be shared with others including those who are in the hospital. Research has shown that when therapy dogs visit patients in the hospital, the patients’ spirits are raised and heart rates and blood pressures decrease. Also, they help people cope with life changes, loneliness, and disease recovery.

Potomac Hospital has a Pet Therapy Program that is made up of specially trained volunteers and their dogs who have met the rigorous criteria established through Therapy Dog International and Delta Society - nationally recognized training and registration programs for people and their pets.

“Before becoming a registered Pet Therapy Dog, the dogs and the owners must pass health screenings, skills tests and aptitude tests,” explains Ann Boyle, who’s the volunteer coordinator of Potomac’s Pet Therapy Program. “All of us who volunteer at Sentara Potomac have undergone extensive training. In addition to training and tests, both the dog and handler have to possess the demeanor and personality to visit patients.”

Our Pet Therapy Program members include Ann Boyle and Sadie, a 3-year-old black Labrador Retriever; Anita Rose and Triton, a 4-year-old Portuguese Water Dog; Kris Campesi and Golden Retrievers Titus and Buddy; and our newest members, Jayda, and her owner, Marlene Abshire; and Marianne, a clumber spaniel and Molly, a boxer, and their owner, Nicole Bukowski. Jayda (pictured) is a five-year-old Rottweiler-Sheep Dog mix who loves pizza crust, people and lots of attention.

“Patients, staff and visitors love to see the Pet Therapy Dogs,” says Boyle. “People really perk up when they see us coming and that’s wonderful.”