Animal Assisted Therapy can help the healing process
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems and mental health disorders. Most recently therapy dogs were sent to help the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon.
Some of the earliest uses of animal assisted therapy in the United States were for psychiatric patients. The presence of the therapy animals produced a beneficial effect on both children and adults with mental health issues. It is only in the last few decades that AAT has been more formally applied in a variety of therapeutic settings, including schools and prisons, as well as hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes.
Nothing lifts the spirits and puts a smile on a patients face like the visit from a wagging tail and cold nose. Recent studies show that therapy dogs can lower high blood pressure. Patient interaction with a therapy dog in a hospital environment can also:
- Ease depression
- Stress reduction
- Release endorphins that help with pain relief
- Provide social stimulation
- Alleviate loneliness
A study conducted by Therapy Dog International, Inc. concluded that 184 patients (86%) of 200 surveyed noticed a positive mood alteration when spending time with a therapy dog.
Patients at Advocate South Suburban Hospital have been enjoying the company of Sambuca “Sam” and Kahlua for over 5 years. These Golden Retrievers are treated like part of the staff, even wearing official staff badges with their name and title. These furry visitors are handled by hospital volunteer Jennifer Drosset with the help of fellow volunteer Vera Schroll.
Dr. Richard Multack has rescued over 20 dogs in his lifetime. “A lot of deserving dogs are in shelters that need to be rescued,” said Dr. Multack, Vice President of Medical Management at Advocate South Suburban Hospital. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could rescue a shelter dog that could in turn rescue us?”
Dogs offer unconditional love. The visits made to Advocate South Suburban Hospital not only brighten the day of the patients but also that of the staff and physicians. “When I see them, I stop to pet them and it puts a smile on my face even on a bad day,” said Dr. Multack.
Dogs in the health care environment not only help lives, but they can save lives. Dogs can be trained for a number of “clinical” duties such as: seizure detection, using their keen sense of smell to detect cancer, and seeing- eye dogs.