Based on the experience of several other hospitals (including our colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital, Tufts-New England Medical Center and MGH), we recently started a pet therapy program in selected areas of the hospital. This is a collaborative program between the Departments of Volunteer Services, Social Work and Nursing. You may not believe this, but research studies suggest that interaction with healthy, well-behaved pets (specifically, dogs) can improve a patient’s mood, lower blood pressure and heart rate and stimulate other factors favorable to healing.
These have to be trained dogs. Ours come from a group called Caring Canines. A volunteer team (the owner and his or her dog) will spend 1-2 hours a week visiting hospitalized patients who give written consent to such visits. Family pets and other animals are not part of the visiting program. Obviously, there are very strict rules designed to protect against infection risks.
I can tell you are skeptical! But here is a story from the first week of the program from Terry Morgan in our Volunteer Services office:
This morning when I got to my office I was greeted by a doctor who I encounter on a regular basis. This morning instead of his cheery self and our talks about jazz, he was very serious and asked me if it was my idea to have the dogs come to visit. I told him it was a group effort and cited as many names of people as I could remember who drove this program forward. I told him it had been very well received. He still looked so serious, and I was afraid he was going to tell me he was not a fan.
The doctor told me that on Wednesday he had just told a patient that she had a serious life-threatening illness. He went back to see her after giving her this news and found her surrounded by three dogs, kissing her, loving her, cuddling with her -- a golden, a lab, and a pug. She told him about her dog at home that has diabetes and she said, "This visit made me so happy."
Then the doctor and I shared a hug and a few tears and then he said, "This program is a real mitzvah. I hope it continues and I wish you the very best with it."
I told the doctor that we hope to be upstairs every Wednesday. He said that was a very good day to come because he gets his patient lab results on Tuesday and usually gives his findings to patients on Wednesday.
Now, are you persuaded?