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What Happens When Furry Friends Join Therapy

From the Heart

An important job

“Oh look at you! You are so beautiful! You’re so happy and wiggly!”

Carol Keefover lit up with joy when Maycee the golden retriever walked into her room.

“Oh my goodness, you’re going to have to come every day!” Carol said through giggles. “Such a good girl.”

While it might not seem like much, Maycee is doing an important job at Methodist Hospital. Once a week she and her owner John Weston make the rounds at The Methodist Rehabilitation Center with other pooches from Paws for Friendship, visiting patients and sharing the love.

Sharing experiences

“She and I get as much out of it as the patients,” said John. “She loves them and goes right up and leans right against them. She likes the attention. Too much petting is not enough. I enjoy talking to the patients and it’s just fun to share talk and hear about the experiences they’ve had with their pets. They kind of light up when they see the dogs come in and it’s kind of neat.”

“He gets me out of the house,” said Donald Albright, who has visited the hospital with his Great Pyrenees, Arlo. “We do this together and just enjoy it. You see how patients react to the therapy dogs, and it is just a neat experience. I really love it.”

Weekly visits

Trained therapy dogs visit Methodist Hospital every Tuesday and two Sundays a month. Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital also has a pet therapy program.

“Therapy dogs play an important role here at the hospital,” said Chris Kawamoto, chief recreational therapist at Methodist Hospital. “It alleviates stress for patients, decreasing blood pressure and decreasing their anxiety. I’ve even had patients who were nonverbal that would talk when they saw the dog. It’s just really amazing. It just makes everybody happier and more relaxed.”

Staff gets excited too

Four-year-old Charli the golden doodle and her owner Tim Brown, also makes the rounds at Methodist. In the physical therapy clinic, staff members are just as excited to see their furry friends.

“Oh look it’s Charli!” exclaimed Sherri Alvarez, PT, DPT, NCS, as the dogs walked into the office. “We get just as much out of this as the patients. We love when the dogs come and they’ve been really generous.”

More than emotional healing

In some cases, pet therapy plays a larger role in a patient’s recovery than just emotional healing. They can also assist with physical therapy.

“Sometimes if a patient has a pet at home, we bring the dogs in for a little extra therapy,” said Sherri. “We practice reaching down for the ball, picking up the ball, throwing it, waiting for the dog to bring it back. It becomes a balance task and an endurance task. We also keep dog and cat dishes and a litter box here so we can practice feeding the dog, getting the dog water, and manipulating the bowls around. If the patient lives alone, they have to be able to take care of those animals and it’s my job to work on balance so it works out really well.”

A welcome sight

At the time of this pet therapy visit, James Traver had been in the hospital for the last few weeks recovering from a stroke. He grew up with dogs and Charli provided some much-needed smiles and puppy love.

“We love animals,” said James’ wife Vickie. “Our daughters have dogs and cats but we don’t have any at home right now.”

Carol, however, is looking forward to getting back home to her little dog. The visit from Maycee is just what the doctor ordered.

“I loved Maycee!” said Carol. “You see those wagging tails and it just breaks your heart. It just makes you not want them to leave. I wish she would have jumped right up here on my lap. They sure bring a lot of joy.”

Katina Granger

About the Author:

Katina Granger is a Content Strategist for Methodist Health System and is passionate about telling stories that illustrate The Meaning of Care

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