From boxers to beagles and shelties to schnauzers, therapy dogs are regular visitors in the emergency department at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa. Seven days a week, volunteers bring trained, certified canines into the ER to spend time with patients and their families. With their wagging tails and wet noses, these dogs calm nervous children who won’t sit still for procedures. They also provide companionship for adults waiting for care, and they take some of the anxiety out of the visit to the emergency department. “Visits from the dogs lighten the stress for patients and families, giving them something positive to focus on,” says Cindy Wilson, coordinator of the medical center’s pet care program and licensed with Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services.
Therapy animals provide support in different ways, Wilson says. Her 8-year-old beagle, Casey, does tricks and makes people laugh, while shy 6-year-old Maggie prefers to sit with patients and offer quiet comfort. The dogs often have a soothing effect on patients, and calmer patients make better decisions about their health. Therapy dogs also answer a need for positive touch in an environment where touch may be uncomfortable. “The dogs make patients feel more at home in a clinical situation,” says Christopher DeFlitch, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, vice-chair of the department of emergency medicine.
Even doctors benefit from having dogs make the rounds. “Everybody smiles when a dog walks through the door,” Dr. DeFlitch says. “It’s therapeutic for the staff, as well as for the patients.”