General News

Pet Therapy Offers A Special Healing Experience

Posted on Apr 26, 2017

Whether it’s a family arriving for their first visit to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital or a patient in the middle of a long stay, it’s the small details that make the difference between a good experience and a great one. At the heart of many of these details is a team of more than 850 dedicated volunteers.

From greeting families at the front desks of the outpatient care centers to bringing coffee to parents in the mornings or visiting with patients, volunteers can be found throughout Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Some even volunteer to share their pets with patients.

Sometimes it takes more than medicine to meet the needs of patients and pet therapy brings comfort to families in the way that only man’s best friend can. For patients who are missing a pet at home, and even for those who are not, the chance to interact with a four-legged friend is an irreplaceable healing experience. For patients, visitors and staff alike, it’s hard to not smile when a therapy pet is hard at work.

Certified therapy dogs make rounds to provide their own kind of special care. A visit from a dog can provide a positive focus for patients and create a more relaxed atmosphere for families. For those few minutes that the therapy dog is interacting with the patient, their mind is free of anxiety and stress, which can improve their mood for the rest of the day.

“The most incredible service the therapy dog teams provide is the way they shift the energy of the entire floor they are visiting. They don’t just impact the patients. You see our friendly staff begin to spontaneously smile. Parents and family members, who are dealing with some of the hardest moments of their lives, perk up and grin,” adds Allyson Crawford, volunteer resources manager. “When our therapy dog teams walk through the hospital, they help everyone here have a better day.”

Each pet therapy team (owner and dog) visits patients at least twice per month. The Child Life and nursing departments identify appropriate patients for the team to visit and a pet therapy volunteer escort helps facilitate the visits. In addition to patient rooms, sometimes pet therapy teams will visit other areas such as the activity center, rooftop play area or private offices.  Therapy dogs may also participate in Paws to Read, a literacy program for patients and families provided by the Family Resource Center Library. Kids can stop in to read a book to a “listening dog,” allowing them to strengthen reading skills in a non-judgmental atmosphere.    

Pet therapy escorts are a second human volunteer that helps prepare patients for a visit. They make sure germs aren’t carried from one room to another by ensuring all hands are sanitized and will place a clean sheet over the patient’s lap if they would like the dog to join them on the bed. Therapy visits are only possible with the help of the team escort.

All pet therapy dogs are certified through a recognized and approved organization such as Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs Inc., Delta Society or Project Pup, and are current on exams and immunizations as required by the organization. Families will always be able to recognize our volunteer therapy pets by their bandana and/or ID badge and the volunteer uniform of their handler.

Interested in becoming a pet therapy volunteer? Here’s what you need to know:

Pet therapy teams can only visit patients if an escort is available. Prospective volunteers wishing to be escorts must meet the hospital’s volunteer requirements.

Pet therapy teams must meet volunteer requirements and the following:

  • Pet owner and dog must complete an interview/screening for the program.
  • Dog must be at least one year of age.
  • Dog must be certified through a pet therapy certifying organization such as Therapy Dogs International or the Delta Society.
  • Proof of annual health exams by a licensed veterinarian is required along with a record of current required vaccinations.
  • Owner must be 18 years of age and a member of a cooperating pet therapy organization.
  • Owner must apply to become a hospital volunteer and if accepted, attend required orientation programs.
  • Pet therapy visits are pre-scheduled.
  • Pet therapy visits are made to patients who are both medically able and who express a desire for the visit.

All dogs must have proof of liability insurance. If you are interested in certifying a dog or becoming a pet therapy escort, please see the volunteer requirements and check open volunteer positions to see if Johns Hopkins All Children’s is currently accepting applications. Occasionally, the application is removed to allow time for registration and training.

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