by Sue Wyninegar
“A dog has one aim in life. To bestow his heart.” – J.R. Ackerley
Pet owners know the unconditional love and calming effect that a pet can provide. Petting a dog, watching a kitten tumble or observing the hypnotic explorations of fish can be an antidote to a bad mood or frazzling day.
The therapeutic use of pets has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of patients - people with cancer or AIDS, the elderly and the disabled. Unlike other humans, among whom interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals also bring out nurturing instincts - they can shift patients’ focus beyond themselves, helping them feel connected to a larger world.
For hospital patients, the simple luxury of being with their own pet is unavailable. Pet visitation and therapy programs fill this void and help those patients who long to be with furry friends.
City of Hope’s pet visitation program began on March 21 when Jack the Great Dane made his first visit to Pediatrics Department patients. Jack, a three-year-old rescue dog, is a gentle giant who makes friends easily due to his compassionate nature and desire to please. When Kim Coxwell, Jack’s owner, obtained him, she knew right away Jack had a wonderful temperament and might be eligible to become a pet therapy dog.
Patients receive information about the pet visitation program when they are admitted. They then must obtain clearance from their doctors to visit the pets. On the day the dog visits, medically eligible patients receive a “Paw Pass.”
Visits occur in each inpatient unit at pre-arranged times and days of the week. Due to the serious nature of City of Hope patients’ illnesses, visiting pets go to a unit’s common area, and eligible patients can meet them there.
Before visiting, dogs must undergo a thorough grooming, including a bath, nail trimming and cleaning of their eyes, ears and teeth. The Therapy Dogs International program certifies all pet visitation dogs.
Judy Frazier, director of Volunteer Services at City of Hope, is delighted to see pet visitation on campus. Currently a pilot program in the Pediatrics Department, the program likely will expand soon to other departments. “Both patients and staff look forward to the dog visits,” Frazier said.
More information about therapy dog certification is available on the Therapy Dogs International Web site at www.tdi-dog.org.