Therapeutic POWER OF PETS
Most pet owners believe that their pets are more than just a simple companion – they are friends and at times, therapists. Pets have been part of therapeutic and clinical treatments for many years. Pets visit clinics, senior centers and schools. The use of pets in medical settings dates back more than 150 years. Author Aubrey Fine, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University, stated that one could even look at Florence Nightingale (1820 1910) the celebrated English social reformer, statistician, and founder of modern nursing. Nightingale recognized that animals provided a level of social support in the institutional care of the mentally ill. Fine has written several books on the human-animal bond. The 1970s saw the surge of interest in pet therapy and research into its value as part of treatment and rehabilitation continues. A growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can also make us healthy, or healthier. Often the therapy is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. One just needs to visit a nursing home, pet therapy camps, or talk to volunteers who take their pets to hospitals to understand the difference having a pet – whether at home or for a visit – has made in their recovery and treatment.
PET THERAPY FOR PATIENTS Two years ago, Jillian, a staff nurse at Northside Hospital Forsyth, brought to her manager’s attention the idea of providing pet therapy at the hospital. “While the request sounded a bit unreasonable, we took a look at the nurse’s detailed plan, which outlined 10 www.myforsyth.com
how there would be minimal interruptions in the work load for the staff and how the impact the dog would have would be immeasurable for the staff, doctors, and ultimately our patients,” recalls Niti Patel, RN, MSN, OCN, manager of Oncology Services at the hospital. “At first, we weren’t sure this would work out. We are proud to say it has.” The process of getting this idea reviewed and perhaps accepted began. Jillian needed to get approval from the medical doctors, oncologists and radiation doctors at the hospital. While getting approval, Jillian continued her research and came across Happy Tails, a Cumming-based company that was already visiting patients at the hospital’s Women’s Center. After a while, the idea of pet therapy was accepted, policies written and approved, and a program started. Members of the Northside Hospital Forsyth Auxiliary provide an escort to the therapy pets and their handlers as they visit patients who wish to have the furry friends stop by their rooms. “These furry volunteers show up whether there’s rain, snow, or sunshine,” Patel added.
THE IMPACT OF PET THERAPY Mary McGinnis has been volunteering with Happy Tails for 15 years. “I love doing this,” McGinnis explained. “It makes people happy and provides me with a great opportunity to help and give something back to my community.” Her dog, Teddy, is the third dog McGinnis has trained to be a part of Happy Tails. Staff members have remarked that their own anxiety decreases when they see the dogs arrive. Physicians and other healthcare delivery team members have been