It's a well known fact that animals can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and promote healing. The Swedish/Edmonds Therapy Pups (STP) program, which began in early 2008, has expanded to include more than 10 teams of volunteer handlers and their Pet Partners®. Presently, the teams visit patients on surgery floors, but they can be stopped for a visit any time you see them in the halls. While their primary purpose is to see hospital patients, they often visit patients’ family and friends too – and our staff!
So what do handlers and their therapy pups do during a visit? I asked a few of our teams to share their stories. Also, make sure you watch the ‘dog cam’ below!
“Although I’m new to the Swedish Therapy Pet volunteer team, I and my giant Goldendoodle Mr. Darcy, have already experienced some wonderful visits. As soon as I put his volunteer scarf on him, Mr. Darcy knows that he’s ready to work hard to make folks smile. And, he never fails in his task. I’m in awe of his intuitive sense when it comes to visiting patients. In one of his first visits, Mr. Darcy immediately approached a patient and laid his big, sweet head on the bed. He instinctively knew that he needed to be gentle and calm, which really did pull at my heart strings. This is the miracle that dogs can bring to people in need of a little tenderness and care. Mr. Darcy’s love isn’t just limited to the patients. He loves to be patted and hugged by the nurses, doctors and staff at the hospital and in return, we often hear “Wow, this sure made my day!” I know that Mr. Darcy will bring a lot of joy to the wonderful staff and patients at Swedish Edmonds. I’m lucky to have him in my life and to be a part of this great program! Now, if I can just get him to ignore the patient’s slippers!”
Patricia Albert and Mr. Darcy - Patricia volunteers at Swedish Edmonds with her Goldendoodle Pup, Mr. Darcy. Together, they were recently registered with the Delta Society as a Pet Partner Team, where they visit with patients, their families and staff members. Patricia received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Patricia describes her volunteer work as a “dream position where I can use my love of animals and my specialized skills in helping people to bring happiness and fulfillment to others”. Mr. Darcy, who just turned 2 years old in June, especially loves the pets and hugs he receives from patients and staff. He recently overcame his terror of riding on elevators and now hops onboard, ready and excited to visit with his human friends.
“Directed to a patient’s room in ICU by the hospital chaplain, Mika, a five-year old Karelian bear dog and I met the family of a patient with a very short time to live. His daughter, who was there with her husband and son, was very distraught. Mika was a very welcome distraction that morning. The daughter, who was seated by her dying father, instantly stopped crying as Mika gently settled in front of her and put his head on her foot where it stayed until we left about 15 minutes later. We talked about the program and about Karelian bear dogs and her son was excited to talk about his new dog. The daughter stopped talking for a moment, looked at me and realized that she was totally distracted and what a nice diversion we created for her that morning.”
Robbie Schuette and Mika - Happy with an important job to do, five-year old Mika, a Karelian bear dog, was elated to receive his new uniform so that he could start work at Swedish Edmonds last spring 2010. Whether it's his scarf and badge or skid plate and bear bell, his attire means he's got an important job to do. Mika would also be proud to remind you that his cousins work for the State of Washington Fish and Wildlife, wearing vests and badges so that the public understands their role in deterring bear and cougar in human-populated areas. In addition to volunteering with Mika at Swedish Edmonds, Robbie works full time and also manages to spend time with her horses, the rest of the dogs and a small flock of chickens and is very active with Backcountry Horsemen of Washington.
“As the start of the school year rolls around for our children, it is time to think about ways to get involved in the community with our pups. Because animals provide their own form of tender, loving care, their visits can brighten moods and decrease stress for patients, visitors, and staff in potentially stressful settings. Often, I am asked what people need to do to be able to visit patients at Swedish/Edmonds with their dogs. For handlers and their dogs to visit at Swedish/Edmonds, they first must become a therapy team through Delta Society®’s Pet Partners® Program, www.deltasociety.org. Once they’ve accomplished this, they go through an orientation process at the hospital, to make sure they and the hospital’s population are a good fit. After that, they become an official STP “therapy pup,” and receive the coveted blue scarf the pup wears while visiting. At that time, they’re off on their journey of lifting the spirits of all with whom they meet at the hospital.”
Christi Dudzik and Pet Partners Shug, Teddy, Ruby, Cozy and Paddy - Christi combined her belief in the human-animal bond with her Mental Health profession and created Healing Paws® in 1993. She manages the hospital based therapy animal program at Swedish/Edmonds, and provides contracted Animal-Assisted Interaction (AAI) services, working with her therapy dogs and children, adolescents, and adults in inpatient psychiatric settings. In private practice, Christi works with individuals of all ages suffering from dog phobia and consults with hospital-based therapy animal programs in western Washington. Locally, nationally, and internationally Christi teaches workshops and evaluates teams for Delta Society. She also develops and teaches workshops for healthcare professionals wishing to integrate a registered therapy animal into their practice.
Want to see more from the therapy pups? Christi, Shug, and the other teams use the ‘dog cam’ to share their visits (with patients permission):
For more about the therapy pups program – and to watch more of the dog cam – visit the Swedish/Edmonds YouTube channel.