Norfolk, VA –August 23, 2004— Dog is man’s best friend…and good for your health, too. Studies suggest that interaction with dogs contributes to good health by lowering blood pressure, elevating mood, and even improving social interaction.
Charlotte Becket, a 78-year-old patient at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, agrees—especially when Stitches and Bo are around. Beckett is reminded of her own dogs and laughingly recounts how one of the dogs jumped into bed with her.
"He knew he belonged there," said Beckett, who enjoyed the visiting dogs once a week for almost two months. "It’s such a joy to see the dogs," she said.
Bo, an 11-year-old Labrador mix, and Stitches, a three-year old Pug, double-team the hospital corridors with handler Cathleen Codling. Codling helped launch the Pet Therapy Program in July and volunteers to bring her dogs to see patients on her days off from Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital’s medical surgical unit where she is a full-time nurse. Codling understands the healing power of a smile brought to patients who expect to have a lengthy stay at the hospital. The dogs provide a nice distraction and lasting enjoyment.
"I realized how much the patients enjoy my dogs. They really look forward to the dogs’ visits," Codling said.
And the dogs enjoy it, too. Readied for a day’s work, the dogs are bathed, manicured, and donned with red scarves before their shift begins. But preparation for their volunteer work begins long before grooming. Bo and Stitches were deemed "fit for service" once licensed by Therapy Dogs International, given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian, and issued their own official Sentara ID badges.
Currently, Bo and Stitches are the only two dogs seeing patients at the hospital but three others are interested in becoming involved. All will have to meet the same stringent requirements of the 13-part rigorous test by Therapy Dogs International, which evaluates everything from temperament to obedience, before dogs can qualify to volunteer.
While the dogs enjoy seeing just about anyone, therapy dogs are available to patients who meet the protocol for a visit. A physician’s order is required, but any staff or family member who thinks a patient may benefit from the therapy can make the request to the patient’s physician.
Since the program’s inception, more than a dozen patients have worked with the therapy dogs. This is one of a number of initiatives to create a healing atmosphere for patients and visitors at the hospital. Keep an eye open for the short, four-legged volunteers with the red scarves. They just might bring a smile to your face, too!