Power of Pets

The Healing Power of Pets

You might be familiar with pet therapy programs at medical institutions, in which trained animals are brought in by owner-volunteers to cheer up hospital patients, but there’s now an increasing trend of patients getting visits from their very own pets.

A successful example of this program is taking place at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.  The program there started four years ago, when administrators were approached by an organization called PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Houston, a non-profit organization that helps to sustain the relationships between pet owners and their pets during a prolonged hospitalization.

The way it works is that when a social worker or child life specialist at the hospital hears that a patient has a pet at home, they speak to doctors who can approve a visit. Then PAWS is contacted and they ensure that the pet is vaccinated and has a bath before the visit. A PAWS volunteer will meet the pet and family members at the entrance of the hospital where they perform a “behavior check” to make sure the pet’s temperament is appropriate for a hospital environment. If all goes well, they then take the pet to the patient’s room for a visit, typically eliciting a big smile.


While the hospitals take precautions to reduce any risk of infection by placing barriers between animals and bed sheets, and changing the sheets after the animal leaves, there have been minimal reports of infection caused by these visits.  One reason for this may be because the patient has already been in very close contact with the animal prior to being in the hospital.

Just this month, Rush University Medical Center became what is believed to be the first Chicago-area hospital to adopt a formal policy allowing visits from pets in patients’ rooms and many others around the country are following suit.

The programs have had an incredible impact on patients who are hospitalized for long periods of time, particularly with children and elderly patients…being able to have a visit from a friendly face and a wagging tail makes a world of difference.

To read more about this, you can visit http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-hospital-pets-0218-20130219,0,6707569.story and http://abcnews.go.com/Health/hospitals-patients-dogs-visit/story?id=16624168.

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