Therapy dogs bring joy to patients

As Angel, Moose and Andie make their rounds through Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, people stop and smile. Frowns transform into wide grins. Eyes light up. Patients struggling with the overwhelming weight of sickness and pain suddenly find themselves breaking into giggles.

Some of the best healers don’t have medical degrees or wear scrubs. Instead, these four-legged volunteers bring their own special brand of therapy to Memorial Hermann hospitals every week, snuggling up with patients in their hospital beds and spreading cheer to those who need it most.

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For years, groups of specially trained therapy dogs (and a few cats) have been making regular visits to hospitals across Memorial Hermann Health System to the delight of patients, guests and staff as part of a partnership with local pet therapy organizations.

The benefits for patients and their families extend well beyond simple joy. As volunteer Brenda Chan can attest, she has seen tangible effects on people’s health.

“When patients pause to cuddle with their furry visitors, their stress levels drop and their anxieties fade. Blood pressure numbers fall. Heart rates slow. The whole atmosphere of the room changes,” said Chan, who volunteers with her dog, Andie, a rescued Golden Retriever, through the Faithful Paws organization. “This work is fulfilling beyond anything I’d ever imagined when I got into it. It’s my ministry now.”

Memorial Hermann partners with several local pet therapy organizations including Faithful Paws, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Caring Critters and Tender Loving K9’s. Pets receive special training and are evaluated to ensure they meet specific criteria before they’re eligible to visit.

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For some patients, the animals provide a welcome distraction from a long hospital stay or uncomfortable recovery.  For others, they offer a pleasant reminder of a beloved pet at home they’ve been unable to see.

“There are people in the Cancer Center getting treatment, and the dogs come, and it immediately puts a smile on their face,” said Kristen Wilkerson, manager of volunteer services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Some of our pediatric patients may not be able to go home and see their pet, and when they get to interact with a dog at the hospital, that really helps them get through a difficult experience.”

The therapy dogs who frequent Memorial Hermann facilities have earned high praise, and in at least one case, a citywide proclamation. Angel, a Golden Retriever with Faithful Paws who was born with one eye and three legs, was honored last year by then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker who named a day in Angel’s honor.

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But at Memorial Hermann, the pets are most famous for their unconditional love and uncanny ability to brighten people’s days.

“It’s so neat to watch: The dogs can barely make it through the hospital without being stopped by guests, physicians and nurses,” Wilkerson said. “You can’t believe the sheer joy these volunteers and their animals provide. Everybody looks forward to their visits.”

In honor of National Volunteer Week which kicks off Sunday, April 10, Memorial Hermann would like to thank the countless volunteers – both two- and four-legged – who so generously donate their time, care and compassion to patients all across our System, every day. We appreciate your service!

Watch the therapy dogs in action.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Memorial Hermann, click here.

Comments

  1. I can’t believe that a service dog can do so much… after my daughter having a major surgery on both knees she had so much anxiety and pain we couldn’t get too her too calm and cooperate with the therapist,it was seeming too be impossible for her too gain of skills,till it take one visit from a very special service dog (Dexter) I well never forget her face when she wake up too him…it took him too built in some confidence in her….. she’s was calm her anxiety was gone for that moment she became so cooperated with the therapist this whole time he was by her side and she was so calm this melts my heart so much that he really did a very huge job and great with kids ……. I’m so glad he came too visit my daughter…. very excellent service great job !!!

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Tashika Varma