Going to the Dogs
Patients find comfort with canines at Grady Health Systems’ new Dog Therapy Program
STORY: Claire Ruhlin
They say dogs are a man’s best friend, and this is particularly the case with Atlanta’s Grady Health System, which introduced the Grady Dog Therapy program to its specialty care options earlier this spring.
Research has shown that animals can provide an array of benefits to patients, from lowering blood pressure and improving recovery time to decreasing anxiety and helping maintain motor skills, says Lindsay Caulfield, senior vice president and chief experience officer at Grady.
“We’ve had so many patients say, ‘This just made my day,’” says Caulfield. “We’ve had nurses tell us their patients smiled for the first time or sat up on their own because of a visit with the dogs. In several cases, we’ve had patients with severe traumatic injuries who were struggling and depressed find hope and determination after a visit. It’s truly remarkable.”
Therapy dogs, affectionately nicknamed “furlunteers,” make rounds throughout the week based on a schedule, but they can also be specifically requested for certain patients. All dogs are certified through pet therapy organizations Pet Partners or Happy Tails, and both dogs and their owners, whom Grady calls VIPPs (Very Important Puppy Parents), go through extensive training to become therapy dogs and owners.
“Sometimes, when people have given up or are withdrawn, a dog can communicate with them in a way people can’t,” says VIPP Elayne Miller.
“I can’t tell you how many times patients have literally cried and said the dogs have made their day,” adds Mary Webb, also a VIPP. “Dogs offer unconditional love. I also believe dogs have the extraordinary ability to sense things humans cannot. As soon as they walk in to a patient’s room, dogs can tell if a patient is in pain, stressed or anxious, and will immediately to offer comfort.”