Sentara’s pet therapy program goes beyond traditional medical care
Bodhi, a handsome 4-year-old barbet (French water dog) wags his way into the hearts of patients, families, and team members at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital (SMJH) in Charlottesville, Va. Bodhi has been volunteering with his handler Joyce since 2022. SMJH recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of their pet therapy program.
“People all the sudden just brighten up,” said Joyce, Bodhi’s owner and handler. “Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, they get to not think about all the negative reasons that they’re here. They talk about their own dogs. We show pictures of each other’s dogs. It just makes everybody take a break from the tough things in life.”
Across Sentara, dogs like Bodhi proudly wear their “pet therapy” bandanas and lovingly cuddle up to patients, visitors, and team members. They provide a unique form of support that goes beyond traditional medical care. The positive effects of therapy pets on both patients and medical professionals are undeniable.
“A patient saw Bodhi from down the hall, and she just went crazy,” said Joyce. “She was in tears, she just loved him so much. She kept calling him an angel, she asked for a picture of him. She said he made all the difference in the world for her.”
Research-backed and patient-approved, pet therapy has demonstrated its ability to alleviate stress, lower blood pressure, and enhance the overall well-being of our diverse patient and team member population.
“We stopped into one of the areas to see some staff and they said ‘oh, we need Bodhi today,’” said Joyce. “Three or four of them, and Bodhi and I sat down on the floor, and we stayed there for about 30 minutes. They just wanted to be in a comforting situation. And they all said when we left, ‘this was so good, we really needed you today,’ that was a particularly moving moment for me.”
Pet therapy is embraced by Sentara as an integral part of healing for patients, so much so that 11 out of our 12 hospitals and our hospice division have dedicated pet therapy programs. Sentara currently has more than 40 therapy dogs providing unconditional love.
“I have lots of people who say they didn’t know about it,” said Joyce. “And then others will say, ‘yes! I’ve already seen three dogs today, and they’re just so excited.”
If you’re interested in volunteering with pet therapy at Sentara, you can find more information here: https://www.sentara.com/aboutus/careers/volunteer