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There's nothing like coming home to a furry face and wagging tail. No matter how hard a day you’ve had, you can’t help but smile when your dog’s head tilts and those big eyes beg, "Pet me!" The same is true for patients in the hospital, including those dealing with serious health issues and injuries. A visit from a pet ambassador at St. Thomas More Hospital is enough to perk patients right up.
"Generally, people seem to be happy to see the dogs," says Cindy Lau, a pet therapy volunteer. "Not everyone’s a dog person but even if they’re not, they usually smile when we come through the halls."
St. Thomas More Hospital has two pet therapy volunteers and a total of four pet ambassadors. Lau owns Corey, a 4-year-old Weimaraner. John Henshaw’s pet ambassadors are Sadie-Two, a 6-year-old Great Pyrenees; Hiker, an 8-year-old Bernese mountain dog; and Soxie, a 6-year-old border collie.
Pet BenefitsResearch has long touted the benefits of pet ownership. In fact, having furry friends has been associated with heart health, decreased pain a er joint surgery, increased social behaviors in children with autism, decreased loneliness, and increased opportunities for physical activity and socialization.
"Simply touching an animal can reduce blood pressure and offer other positive responses," Henshaw says.
Inside the hospital, interaction with the dogs brings widespread joy. "A lot of the time, the dogs are as much a help/stress reliever for the staff as they are for patients," Lau says.
The most heartwarming moments come when a pediatric patient is comforted by one of the dogs.
"We went to the ER not too long ago because we’d heard a boy had cut his leg," Lau says. "As soon as he saw the dog, he gave her a big hug and started telling her about his own dog. It’s amazing how dogs can put people right at ease."
Certified to ServeSt. Thomas More Hospital requires all incoming pet ambassadors be certified by a national agency, such as Therapy Dogs International, and also complete an annual veterinarian certification. Dogs and their owners are evaluated as a team and must meet certain criteria before being certified. Certifying agencies ensure dogs have the proper disposition and that the owner has proper control over the animal.
Certain dogs have just the right personalities for being pet ambassadors. Henshaw's Sadie-Two found her calling by being a pet ambassador. While he sometimes enters Sadie-Two into obedience competitions, he gets more satisfaction out of volunteering.
"With competition obedience events, you win or you lose," he says. "With therapy, you win - every time."
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