Pet Therapy Programs Help Patients In Rehab, Physical Therapy And More

December 15, 1998


LOS ANGELES (December 8, 1998) -- Janie, a volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, pads down the hall to her next stop. She trots into the hospital room, panting, sits down on the floor, and pokes her nose over the edge of the bed. She nudges the patient's hand, and licks it -- but just a little bit. She's been taught that it's bad manners to lick patients excessively. Janie's a popular volunteer. She's been coming to the cardiac units and the AIDS unit for a little over six months now. Patients know her by name. Patients' families know her by name -- even those who have never met her. In the short time she's been volunteering, this golden retriever has become a Cedars-Sinai institution.

Janie, who was trained as a Seeing Eye Dog, is a part of an innovative pet therapy program that Cedars-Sinai has operated since 1996. The basis on which the program is based is simple: Some patients heal significantly faster and better if they are visited by a friendly animal. Studies show that the uncomplicated affection and unconditional acceptance a companion animal offers seem to act as a sort of lightning rod, reducing anxiety and relieving depression, both of which inhibit healing. They can also serve as an active part of the healing process, says Rickann Clapp, the Recreation Therapist who supervises the pet therapy program in Cedars-Sinai's Rehabilitation department.

"We use the dogs as an active part of the healing process. If the patient is working on arm strength or balance we incorporate the dog in the exercise. We'll have the patient pet the dog with the weaker arm, or walk the dog down the hall. Sometimes we'll take the patient and dog outside. A simple game of 'fetch' can become an exercise in balance, vocalization, range of arm movement, and socialization. We can also tell how oriented a patient is by having them name the parts of the dog."

"The dogs are also great for socialization," she continues. "Some patients will begin talking to a dog before they'll begin talking to a person. I've had patients tell me that they like dogs better than therapists. Of course, not every patient benefits from pet therapy, and not all dogs are appropriate to all therapies, but we match the dogs up to best fit the needs of appropriate patients."

Liz Feder and her husband, Jim volunteer with Janie each week. "It's absolutely incredible," says Feder "We have patients and relatives stop us in the halls and on the elevator; they all love Janie. She brings smiles to a lot of people." It's not always easy though, says Feder. "Sometimes it's tough -- we might know we're visiting someone who won't be there when we next visit. Janie usually sits in a chair by the bed, and the patients talk to her and touch her. In regular cases, if the patient is dog person, we can put a clean sheet on the bed and she gets right into bed with them -- somehow she knows just what to do."

That knowledge sometimes has surprising results. In one case, says Feder, a doctor asked if Janie could visit one of his patients who was not in coma but had refused to talk to anyone for weeks. Janie came in, sat in the chair and put her paws on the rail. Immediately the patient started talking to her and petting her. "The doctor was in awe," says Feder.

Bailey, a Bichon Frise, volunteers in Rehabilitation twice a week. "People sometimes think he's stuffed," says his owner Lynn Ziv. "I remember one man in particular. He was really depressed, not talking. The doctor asked if I could take Bailey in for a visit. When we walked in the man was lying on his back, not saying or doing anything. I leaned over the rail and started to talk to him, but he was simply not responding. Then Bailey started "talking," making his dog noises. Suddenly the man looked up and said, "Oh my god, that's a real dog! I thought it was a stuffed animal.'"

Because of the close patient contact, animals that participate in the program are carefully screened by Dr. John Young, M.D., Director of Comparative Medicine at Cedars-Sinai. Size and breed aren't important -- the animals now visiting the hospital range from a four-pound Yorkshire terrier to an 85-pound French sheepdog -- but the animal's health and personality are, says Dr. Young. Dogs are given a thorough physical examination and observed in a wide variety of circumstances. "We want to be sure the animal is healthy."

"We also evaluate the dogs' personalities; we want animals that enjoy traveling, and that are stoic and won't be frightened by carts or noise. We make sure that the animal has no areas that are sensitive to touch, that the dog is interactive but not hyper, not a nervous biter, and doesn't lick excessively. We also make sure that the dog isn't overly fixated on its owner. Even though the animal is always with its owner in the hospital, I take it away from the owner to make sure it doesn't suffer from separation anxiety."

Currently more than 20 dog/owner teams participate in the hospital's two pet therapy programs. "The best human volunteers have patience and are responsive to the patient, staff and family members," says Barbara Cowen, the licensed clinical social worker who runs the Pet Therapy program in the AIDS unit and Cardiology. "They take great joy and pride in seeing how their dog is making a difference in people's lives."
Barbara Cowen, L.C.S.W.; Rickann Clapp, Recreation Therapist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Pet therapy volunteers (owners and dogs)
John Young, M.D., Director of Comparative Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

For media information and to arrange an interview, please call 1-800-396-1002.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Related Dogs Articles from Brightsurf:

Dogs are sensitive to their owners' choice despite their own preference
Inspired by work on infants, researchers investigated whether dogs' behaviors are guided by human displays of preference or by the animals' own choices.

Researchers identify new Rickettsia species in dogs
Researchers have identified a new species of Rickettsia bacteria that may cause significant disease in dogs and humans.

Paleogenomics -- the prehistory of modern dogs
An international team of scientists has used ancient DNA samples to elucidate the population history of dogs.

Tracking the working dogs of 9/11
A study of search and rescue dogs led by the School of Veterinary Medicine showed little difference in longevity or cause of death between dogs at the disaster site and dogs in a control group.

Fighting like cats and dogs?
We are all familiar with the old adage ''fighting like cat and dog'', but a new scientific study now reveals how you can bid farewell to those animal scraps and foster a harmonious relationship between your pet pooch and feline friend.

Why cats have more lives than dogs when it comes to snakebite
Cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite than dogs, and the reasons behind this strange phenomenon have been revealed by University of Queensland research.

Adolescence is ruff for dogs too
The study, headed by Dr Lucy Asher from Newcastle University, is the first to find evidence of adolescent behavior in dogs.

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.

Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.

Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.

Read More: Dogs News and Dogs Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to