NSTA is offering several opportunities for you to learn more about becoming a therapy animal team.
It was last-minute – a young patient had been in the hospital for over a week and had another week in front of her before she could go home. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator reached out to North Star Therapy Animals and member Sherri knew that was right up her dog Itzy’s alley. (she loves young humans!)
Itzy didn’t need any special instructions – just went right to work being loving, calm, and supportive. Sherri says “The intuition this little chihuahua has always amazes me! Itzy has the biggest heart of any dog I’ve ever been around.”
She may be small, but what Itzy does for those she visits is remarkably huge.
April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day!
National Therapy Animal Day was created by Pet Partners to recognize all of the exceptional therapy animals who partner with their human companions to bring comfort and healing to those in need. Therapy animals and their handlers can be found helping people of all ages in a variety of settings including hospitals, pediatric care units, schools, and assisted living facilities.
Goals of National Therapy Animal Day:
- Recognize and honor therapy animals
- Raise awareness and educate the public about the role therapy animals play in enhancing the health and well-being of humans
- Honor the thousands of dedicated handlers (the human members of therapy animal teams) who volunteer their time and compassion during visits
“I needed this more than you’ll know.”
“My face hurts from smiling so much.”
“This is just what the doctor ordered.”
Those are just a few of the comments that Bailey the therapy dog and her handler Holly Parker hear during their regular visits to University of Minnesota Medical Center. The pair are a familiar sight in the hospital units, and their visits provide immense joy to the patients, staff and family members they meet. But the benefits of Bailey’s work run deeper than a smile. Research indicates that therapy animals can provide a bevy of positive health effects to hospitalized patients.
We caught up with Bailey and Holly to learn more about their training, their passion for people, and the health science behind their tail-wagging work.
How long have you and Bailey been providing therapy dog care? What initially inspired your interest in pet therapy, and when did you begin visiting University of Minnesota Medical Center?
Bailey and I have been a registered Therapy Animal team since February 2015. I was inspired to pursue becoming a team after seeing a promotion at the facility where Bailey took Puppy Kindergarten classes. Bailey seemed like she’d make a great therapy animal, and I knew I would have more time in the next year to volunteer. So, we started down the path of becoming a Therapy Animal team. We made our first visit to University of Minnesota Medical Center on June 10, 2015. We have been visiting Unit 3A on the West Bank of the medical center every week since then. We added Unit 6C on the East Bank two years ago and visit every other week.
Can you describe the training and certification process that Bailey went through? What characteristics make Bailey an ideal therapy dog?
Bailey and I are registered with Pet Partners, a national organization based in Seattle In addition to providing the handler coursework and evaluations, Pet Partners provides teams with liability insurance and requires teams to retest every two years. All dogs must be at least one year old before taking the evaluation, which involves twenty unique skills. Half the skills are obedience-based; it’s important all teams exhibit confidence and predictability during a visit. The other half of the test involves role playing through situations you are likely to encounter on a visit (e.g, people in wheelchairs, loud noises, distractions, among others). Bailey makes an ideal therapy dog because of her love of people, ability to “read” emotions and respond accordingly, her intense trust in me, and her belief that I always have her best interest in mind.
Why is a visit with a therapy dog beneficial for someone who is hospitalized? How does Bailey help or support the patients she sees at University of Minnesota Medical Center?
We have plenty of research showing the benefits of Therapy Animal contact with people. A visit from a Therapy Animal may help reduce blood pressure, lower a person’s heart rate, and decrease anxiety. The presence of therapy animals brings a sense of normalcy to people in hospitals. Therapy animals also have a positive effect on patients’ pain level. People also tell us that the visits are personally important for them. [DH1] We hear people say: ‘I needed this more than you’ll know,’ or ‘My face hurts from smiling so much,’ or ‘This is just what the doctor ordered.’ Patients are not the only ones who benefit: Staff, family members and visitors all experience a positive effect from a visiting therapy animal. I always encourage staff to say ‘hi’ to Bailey and remind them we aren’t here only for the patients.
Why are you and Bailey passionate about therapy dog work? What do you find most meaningful about your work?
Bailey is passionate about her work because she gets to spend time with me. She also loves being a therapy dog because she gets petted, patted, massaged, rubbed, combed, hugged, and doted on. She’s a diva, so she lives for the attention. I don’t think we could meet all her “needs” at home if she weren’t a therapy dog. So, I’m grateful to all the patients we meet. I experience the same benefits as those we visit: reduced stress, a lower heart rate, a near constant smile. I get immense satisfaction knowing people smile more, feel a bit better or feel less lonely while we are at the hospital. When people look me in the eye and say, “thank you,” it’s very meaningful for me. That gratitude is powerful and means so much because many patients have some weighty issues to contend with and thanking me seems like it would be far down their list.
What do you love about our University of Minnesota Health community?
The University of Minnesota Health community is so welcoming. Everyone smiles when we are in the hallways or walking outside. Bailey knows who has the treats and who “needs” to pet her. The volunteer department is incredible and does all they can to make Bailey and my visits successful. I’m so grateful that I get to volunteer through University of Minnesota Health.
Bailey, you’re a very social media-savvy pup! Where can we find you online?
Thank you for noticing. Yes, I’m quite tech-savvy ( Gen Zer, ya know). I love sharing all the places my mum and I visit via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sharing my visits helps people better pupperstand the role of therapy animals. And maybe, my tweets and posts will put a smile on someone’s face. I pup-preciate your interviewing my mum and me!
While fish cannot become NSTA members, check out this article from Fishkeeping World.
If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you’ll know the pick me up they can provide if you’ve just come in from a long hard day.
Have you ever wondered why this is?
Animal-assisted therapy is becoming increasingly popular, and many professionals within the health sector are becoming increasingly more aware of the benefits animal therapy brings.
But what is animal-assisted therapy?
It’s a therapeutic intervention, which alongside traditional therapy, incorporates animals in a variety of ways; perhaps during a few sessions a week, or sometimes through learning to care for an animal. Animal-assisted therapy can be helpful for those individuals who battle with addiction, schizophrenia and depression. It has been proven to improve the emotional wellbeing of those with autism, behavioural issues and certain medical conditions.
Animals provide us with a sense of calm and comfort, and developing a bond with an animal can promote self-worth and self-regulation. While most therapy animals are cute furry creatures such as dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs, it is not just our furry friends who can provide us with therapy.
Did you know you can get similar benefits by watching fish? Either through having your own fish tank, or through visits to an aquarium.
Have you ever noticed that the majority of waiting rooms have fish tanks in them? This isn’t purely for décor, it’s because studies have proven that watching fish reduces stress and anxiety levels and improves mental health.
The benefits of fish therapy are evident for both children and adults.
Research has proven that simply placing a fish tank in a dining room of an Alzheimer’s care home reduces disruptive behaviour and increases appetite. The University of Pennsylvania has also found that keeping fish is an effective therapy in helping children who have disruptive behaviour disorders.
To find out more, look at Fishkeeping World’s infographic on 15 ways fish reduce stress and improve mental health.