Spokane Hospitals Calls Therapy Dogs Back With Call To Expand Dog Care: 'Ease Their Load In Just A Few Minutes'

Spokane Hospitals Calls Therapy Dogs Back With Call To Expand Dog Care: ‘Ease Their Load In Just A Few Minutes’

Margaux the Saint Bernard lay across the hospital bed on a sheet laid just for her. In a slight tone, she stared at Peyton Adams, 14, who was exuding delight.

“I love dogs very much,” said Peyton. “It’s so shimmery, soft and mouth-watering.”

Any drool fell on that extra sheet of paper, and both the dogs and the patient looked enthralled. Before the visit, the nearly 100-pound man named Margo is bathed and groomed, and doesn’t get bedtime unless the patient wants it to. Otherwise, you stand next to the bed or sit on a chair nearby.

This fall, both Providence and Multicare Hospitals renewed invitations for registered pet therapy volunteers, after animal-supported programs were paused during the pandemic. Both hospital systems plan to expand therapist visits if enough people sign up.

Peyton wanted Margo close, so her mother, Heather Adams, and the dog’s owner, Allison Miller, sat at the bedside.

At Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, Peyton underwent treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma, which he was diagnosed with in February 2020. It is a type of cancerous tumor that usually occurs in the long bones of the arms and legs, and primarily affects children and young adults.

Heather Adams said the sarcoma was removed from her daughter’s lower left leg, but Peyton also required alternating days of months of chemotherapy sessions. In the hospital for final chemotherapy on November 14, Peyton said she would undergo another treatment if it meant visiting a dog for treatment.

“I feel nauseous all the time; I’m miserable, but when a dog comes, it just goes away.”

At home in Spokane, Peyton has her own dog, a blue Weimaraner named Scout.

Hospital dog volunteers must meet requirements for Pet Partners, a national organization that vets and registers animal handlers and their pets to visit hospitals, assisted-living centers, and other locations.

Studies have shown that the relationship between people and pets is associated with many health benefits, including lower blood pressure, anxiety and loneliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Therapy dogs also bring instant smiles to faces, even when children in the hospital are scared or in pain, said Miller, a volunteer for 11 years with the Providence Pet Visitation Program. Margo is her third therapy dog.

“Studies have shown that it reduces stress, anxiety, blood pressure, depression, and even pain that a dog can experience,” Miller said. “I’ve had some amazing experiences, to walk into a children’s room and they’re sad and maybe crying. You go in and they see the dog, and a smile flashes across the patient’s face.

“It makes a huge difference for families, too. With kids with cancer, you can imagine how stressed out a parent is, and it’s so stressful. When you bring the dog in, it lowers everything in the room. It lightens their load for just a few minutes.”

At Sacred Heart, Miller works with another volunteer who is a pet team escort, going to the hospital room beforehand to make sure a patient is ready, removing obstacles like a food tray and placing a sheet on the bed to catch the dog’s hair. The volunteer handler thought the dog was on a leash.

Pediatric patients who fear an upcoming procedure feel more calm because they pet the dog, Miller said, and that creates a distraction. Often, patients describe that they have lost their pets at home.

The pet therapy program is back, too, after a temporary hiatus from COVID-19, said Jennifer Tucker of MultiCare, director of local volunteer services.

“We want to rebuild pet therapy at both MultiCare Deaconess and Valley Hospital,” Tucker said.

I sometimes bring my gold registered pet treat, Ranger, to visit nurses and health care workers outside the facility during the pandemic to relieve stress, said Bailey Walters, Deaconess’s ICU nurse manager.

“During the bad Omicron wave that came, and no visitors were allowed, when I would walk around and talk to the staff, people were just sad,” Walters said.

“Dogs just bring smiles to faces. After further research, I found out how great it can also be for patients to visit. It reduces anxiety, gives them relief, and releases endorphins—all things to help patients recover. Hopes With less COVID, we can get more dogs into patient rooms.” .

Walters said staff would welcome hypoallergenic dogs such as poodles to visit patients with pet allergies if requested.

Vaccinations are required for both handlers and dogs for hospital visits. More information about Pet Partner Registration Process Connected. Dogs must be at least a year old, have obedience training and be welcoming to strangers without a history of aggression, among the criteria.

A therapy class is offered three times a year to prepare for the Pet Partners exam, said Miller, the Diamonds in the Ruff trainer. It also recommends that dogs pass the American Kennel Association’s Good Canine Citizen test.

Providence has about 10 dogs in the program, which also need more companion volunteers. More information on the Volunteer Services website, Volunteers at inwa.providence.org.

MultiCare has a link on their site MultiCare.org/volunteers Pet Therapy website, or contact Tucker by email at jennifer.tucker2@multicare.org.

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