Dog visits heal owners in hospital

For those of us who are dutifully committed to our dogs and cats, with a nothing-will-get-between-me-and my-pet devotion, with equal reciprocation, it may not surprise you to learn that many hospitals are now recognizing the therapeutic value of a pet visit when the owner (their patient) is hospitalized.

Separate from therapy-trained dog programs, managed by vetted volunteers throughout the country’s medical care facilities and assisted living centers, more hospitals are letting household pets visit their sick owners.

Of course, some rules may apply such as limited hours for pet visitation, permission from the attending physician, proof of pet vaccinations, and liability waivers in advance.

Despite understandable precautions, it is uplifting to see more hospitals support the psychological benefits that a beloved pet can provide to the owner (or child) who is recovering from illness, injury or surgery.

The University of Maryland Medical Center has offered a pet visitation program since 2008. Their policy is based on the belief that: “Pets can play an important role in an individual’s recovery and overall healing process, which is why the University of Maryland Medical Center takes pride in offering the Patient’s Personal Pet Visitation Program as a safe process through which family members can schedule visits for their loved ones’ pets to visit them during their hospitalization.”

I had the good fortune to personally assist a client recently with scheduled hospital visits with his dog at Honor Health Scottsdale Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. While our primary service is cage-free dog boarding, we also offer pet taxi if needed. This particular scenario involved both. While “Fancy’s” Dad was hospitalized, she stayed in my home and was escorted daily to Honor Health to share time with her Dad in his hospital room. She was allowed to camp out all day, provided she didn’t leave his private room. Most of the time, both Fancy and Dad shared the same bed with endless cuddles and comfort for each other. It helped a great deal that she was calm and engaging with the hospital staff; who welcomed her presence.

I commend this hospital for recognizing the therapeutic benefit of uniting this dog with their patient to assist in his recovery. Fancy was not a therapy-trained dog. She was simply an owner’s pet who was brought to his bedside in the interest of nonpharmacological “treatment”.

While specifically-trained therapy dogs are widely used for human-animal therapy, there is enhanced benefit to having your own dog or cat in your hospital room. That benefit also extends to the pet who instinctively knows his owner is suffering and may be distressed by their absence in the home. The hospital staff tasked with all aspects of their patient’s care also become involved with the family pet’s visits. It undoubtedly brings joy to them to see a smile on their patient’s face when the fur arrives.

I hope to see more hospitals adopt a pet visitation program to enhance their patient’s healing through the power of their own pets.

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photo credit: fantasista @ freedigitalphotos.net

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