Therapy Dogs at HRMC

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A dog squad comes to call: Canine visitors raise spirits in hospital's inpatient rehab unit

By Adam Stewart Staff writer astewart@hutchnews.com, Adam Stewart, Apr 1, 2017

Jake, Asher, Chip and Ladybug got the star treatment during a recent visit to Hutchinson Regional Medical Center to visit patients in the Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit.

The fabulous, furry foursome are therapy dogs with the Hutchinson Kennel Club, and they barely got in the front doors before hospital visitors and staff wanted to make their acquaintance. And that is precisely the dogs’ job, said inpatient rehab unit director Shelli Hines.

“They just walk up and love getting petted,” she said.

Hines said she started working with the kennel club to bring therapy dogs for visits in August 2016, and the idea was planted in her mind by Susie Cardwell while Cardwell was a patient. During the recent visit, though, Cardwell was one of the volunteers from the kennel club, bringing Ladybug the pug to visit.

Hines said patients of all ages have asked to get visits from their pets in the past, and she has seen the benefits firsthand.

“You can just see them de-stress when their pet can come visit them,” she said.

So she worked with the kennel club to bring in therapy dogs on Sundays, when the rehabilitation unit doesn’t conduct rehab exercises. The visits give patients a reason to be up and active on their day off from the three-hour rehab sessions, Hines said.

It took a few months working on the idea – and infection-control policies – and the first visit was Jan. 8.

Hines said the second or third visit from therapy dogs almost brought a nurse to tears because of how much it lifted the spirits of an especially depressed patient.

“We bring smiles,” Cardwell said. “That’s what we really do.”

Hutchinson Kennel Club members and their therapy dogs usually visit the hospital on Sunday afternoons. Typically two dogs go on a visit, but which dogs visit can change from week to week.

“So far, it’s been very, very good,” Hines said.

Health benefits

A study by researchers at UCLA

, published in the American Journal of Critical Care in 2007, found that patients with advanced heart failure showed significant decreases in cardiopulmonary pressure, stress hormone levels and anxiety when they had a 12-minute visit with a volunteer and therapy dog, compared to patients visited just by a volunteer and patients who received no visit.

The researchers also noted that other studies showed a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate after interaction with animals.

Kennel club program

Hutchinson Kennel Club member Sherry Hembree, who volunteers in the therapy dog program with her dog Chip, said the kennel club has had a therapy dog program for years, visiting schools, libraries, long-term-care facilities and other locations.

The club has 28 members involved in the therapy dog program, she said.

Dogs have to be trained and pass a test before they can be therapy dogs. They have to be able to follow directions, walk on a loose leash and demonstrate generally good, calm behavior. Hembree said a dog’s personality matters more than its breed.

“Any breed can be a therapy dog,” including mixed breeds and rescue dogs, she said.