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Pet assisted therapy catching on at local hospital

SANTA MONICA, CA (BDCi) — Not long ago animals were completely forbidden at hospitals and medical centers, but today this view has changed, and they are actually being used to help patients cope during their long stays at hospitals.

BDCi News went to Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica to find out more about a unique program, Pawsitive Pet Program,  that according to its coordinator Erin Pickerel has been under-utilized.  “Pet assisted therapy is not new; it is under promoted. I would love to see more people, facilities get involved and also to see more dogs become animal assisted therapy workers.”

The program’s visits are usually pretty short, lasting an average of 5 minutes.  But that small time connecting with a pet and the

Photo by Janete Weinstein

resultant joy can mean a patient’s spirits are lifted which in combination with medical therapy is a good thing.

Trudi Hemmons, Charge Nurse in Critical Care,  shares that in the beginning doctors were not very fond of the program, but that changed over time. “The doctors were a little concerned about infections, but that has never been a problem. On top of that the dogs (in the program) are checked and it is very well supported now.” said Hemmons.

The pet assistance teams have access to every floor at the center except the women’s health floor according to the Director of Volunteer Services Grenda Pearlman.  “We don’t put the dogs near the babies.” added the director.

Not every dog is right for the program. The dogs and owners must go through an evaluation that tests behavior and temperament and some intense training in order to be part of the team.

Jinny Chow, animal assisted theraphy volunteer has been with the program since 2006 and her dog Jasmine is one of the popular animals at Saint John’s Medical Center.  “Our job is to visit with patients, staff, family members and whoever wants to pet Jasmine”. Jasmine AKA Lettuce eat dog, instead of working for biscuits just like any other dog, works for lettuce instead.

The dog and handler teams are asked to commit to two visits per month, but many choose to visit more often.

For more information regarding the Paula Kent Meehan Pawsitive Pet Program, please call the Saint John’s Volunteer Office at 310.829.8438.

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