pet therapy rsmh

They offer companionship, affection and a way to relieve stress. Now, there’s yet another reason to love dogs—studies are showing that spending just five minutes with them can help people feel better and heal faster while they’re in the hospital or getting treatment.

Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital (RSMH) recently announced the kick-off of its pet therapy program called Paws for a Cause. Volunteer handlers bring their certified therapy dogs to visit patients, visitors and team members, spreading the kind of support that only a dog can give.

Hospitals across the country are finding benefits for their patients when they establish a dog therapy program. Therapy dogs are specially trained to be gentle and comforting around people including those who walk with a cane, use a wheelchair or have oxygen or IV tubing. Researchers have found that a visit from a four-legged friend can reduce a patient’s anxiety, resulting in lower blood pressure and the need for less pain medication.

While the focus of the program is lifting the spirits of patients, RSMH knows that family members and staff sometime need comforting too. “We’re hoping to help heal the whole hospital community, including friends and family in our waiting areas, and even staff members if they’ve been part of a stressful situation,” said Kimberly Fauerbach, Patient Experience Coordinator. “These dogs are an extension of the healing and kindness of our Riverside Care Difference which is how we put our healing mission into action. Paws for a Cause is another way that we can enhance the healing process for our patients and team.”

Not everyone will welcome a visit from a furry friend, and Fauerbach is quick to mention that they have policies in place to prevent any issues. “The safety of patients and visitors is fundamental to the Riverside Care Difference. We’ve made sure that the dogs are properly vaccinated and certified and that we’re working with experienced handlers who know how to avoid situations where people may not feel comfortable or may not be able to interact with the dogs. We’re also encouraging the use of hand sanitizer before and after any therapy session to keep our hands clean.”

The therapy dog visits will include outpatients at the Riverside Shore Cancer Center. Pet therapy is a component of Riverside’s integrative medicine, which also includes art and music therapy. With a focus on the whole person - body, mind and spirit – this integrated approach has been shown to reduce treatment side effects and enhance a patients’ quality of life.

Fauerbach hopes to expand the program in the future to include 8-12 dog/handler teams so that visits could be more frequent. “People have been very excited when I tell them about the therapy dogs. I know our patients and visitors are going to benefit from their visits, and I don’t want anyone to miss out.”

Additional integrative medicine support focuses on helping patients to de-stress. At RSMH, volunteers visit inpatients each day and offer activities to help pass the time, including art supplies, books and crossword puzzles. On Mother’s Day, music will fill the hallways as Ally Tarwater, teacher at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, will tour the hospital campus, performing for the enjoyment of patients and visitors alike.

Published: May 3, 2018