Franciscan Health News

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Dec. 4, 2017

Therapy Pet Program visits increase in 2017

For a couple of years now, some special hospital volunteers have made the rounds at Franciscan Health central Indiana sites to offer their skills as therapists, greeters and, occasionally, ball-fetchers.

Melody Walters (right), a patient in occupational therapy, brushes Gryphon as part of her therapy session with Bridget Kress, OT. Therapists incorporate activities with the dogs, such as brushing or tossing a ball filled with treats, when appropriate to the patients’ needs and willingness to interact with the animals.

The Therapy Pet program brought in volunteers like Gryphon, an 8-year-old black Labrador retriever, and his owner and trainer, Jan Nowicki, to provide a special presence that provides healing in unique ways. Always accompanied by their handlers and escorted by a hospital staff member or volunteer, therapy dogs visit lobbies and departments like the outpatient cancer infusion center, inpatient occupational therapy, palliative care, Hospice House and SICU. They have even made appearances during staff events, including those for AICU, and participated in Senior Promise and Walk with a Doc programs.

As part of her research presentation at the 2017 Barbra Cunningham Showcase, Tammy Haslar, DNP, compared the annual visits of the therapy pets in 2016 to 2017. Last year, pets made 106 visits and 2,768 contacts; in the first nine months of 2017, pet visits exceeded that total at 140, and contacts were more than 3,381 during that time.

According to several research studies that Haslar consulted, proven benefits of a 10-minute session with a therapy pet include:

* 3% lower breathing rate
* 22% drop in pain severity
* 19% boost in energy
* 48% decrease in depression
* 64% drop in feelings of anger
* 39% decrease in fatigue

“The use of therapy pets has been studied for decades, and the benefits support what we recognize as that special bond between humans and pets,” said Haslar. “It’s rewarding to see how Franciscan Health has embraced this program and the way it touches more lives each year.”