Sayre: Therapy dogs bring a light-hearted touch to local health care

Pictured above are Animal Care Sanctuary Assistant Executive Director Rachel Rossiter and her dog, Sausage.

SAYRE -- Wagging tails make for smiling patients.

A new pet therapy program is in the works at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, allowing both patients and staff a bright moment in an otherwise stressful situation.

"Evidence shows that having pet therapy in the in-patient hospital setting reduces pain levels, helps with anxiety, depression and fatigue," explained Kayla Robinson, a nurse educator at RPH. "It can reduce a patient's length of stay just by having these programs available."

Nurse Manager Cindy Whittaker explained that the program was started a little over a month ago, primarily in the hospital's trauma unit, to help as an alternative method for pain control and to enhance the patient experience.

"This has really helped with the patients that have pets at home, to kind of fill that void for them while they're in the hospital," Whittaker continued.

"A great side effect of this program is how beneficial it's been for our staff," Whittaker said. "They really look forward to the dogs coming every week. We're a very busy unit, so when they come, everyone honestly takes time to visit with the dogs -- which is a great stress relief for them in the middle of the day."

"It releases a lot of stress," confirmed Linda Johnson, mobility specialist. "I can't wait until they get there."

"We get a lot of patients that have had strokes," said Robinson. "They may not be able to verbalize their needs but you can see when the dogs come in ... having that smile on their face you can tell that one interaction has made their day better."

"It's very rewarding for staff to see that something as simple as pet therapy can really change their patient's entire day," she added.

Visits typically last between one to two hours, depending on how many patients are interested that day.

However, the health care workers noted that most patients want to socialize with the dogs, even if for just a short time.

The program is run with just two dogs at the moment -- Sausage and Newt -- but both Animal Care Sanctuary and Guthrie look forward to expanding throughout the entire hospital as more dogs graduate the therapy dog training program.

"Right now, we're focused on the one unit in the hospital, but ... we would like to spread this hospital-wide so that every single patient has the opportunity," Whittaker said. "So, we do need to grow their program so we can get more animals in here."

"You can just see stress melt away from people," said Animal Care Sanctuary Assistant Executive Director Rachel Rossiter. "People who have been laying in bed get up and move around a little bit more; when they have (children) in the room, that's kind of an uncomfortable environment for a child to be in and bringing Sausage in lightens the mood and makes it a little more comfortable for the family visiting the patient."

"Sausage, my guy, has been informally going with me to events at libraries and schools, so we recently took the control evaluation exam through love on a leash and we've been coming ever since," she continued. "Now, we're working on gathering our supervised hours here and we hope very soon to be certified through Love on a Leash."

"Because it has been very beneficial, I think it's only going to grow in popularity, so, I would like to encourage anyone who thinks they have a dog that could be a potential therapy dog to seek out ACS for the classes so we can increase our team," said Rossiter.

For more information, see AnimalCareSanctuary.org or Loveonaleash.org

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