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Four-legged visitors bring comfort, support to staff and patients

Four-legged visitors bring comfort, support to staff and patients
At Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana you may spot Eli or Brinkley in the hallway. At Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal Howie or Livvy are ready to welcome patients. Always tethered to their volunteer owners, the furry friends are among a crew of therapy dogs providing comfort and support for those who need it.

After some limited access during the pandemic, therapy dogs are back at Carle Foundation Hospital supporting inpatient rehab patients while team members at Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle BroMenn receive occasional visits from the therapy dogs during breaks.

For our staff, it is a huge escape. They are putting their heart and soul into patient care. It is such a change in emotion for the staff member. You see them light up,” Amanda Burwell, Rehab Admissions coordinator and Pet Therapy coordinator, said.

Ranging in breeds from a short-legged Welsh Corgie to a massive mastiff, the therapy dogs bring unconditional love and positive response to those they meet. Dogs and their owners receive screenings and in Urbana, each dog must have a Canine Good Citizen certificate and belong to Pet Partners, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Therapy Dogs Inc., or Love on a Leash. 

At Carle BroMenn, the Hound Rounds program began in Adult Day Services in 2008 and expanded to Acute Rehab in 2010 at Adult Day Services. There are 18 certified dogs and 12 handlers in the program.

“The dogs provide an unconditional love. It is immediate, positive and often taps into a person’s personal story about their animals,” Sue Seibring, manager of Volunteer Services at Carle BroMenn Medical Center, said.
She adds that research shows the many positive ways therapy dogs enhance patient care. Diversion, lowering blood pressure, decreasing loneliness and encouraging patient movement and morale are examples, Seibring said.

Carle Foundation Hospital started inviting certified dogs and handlers in the early 2000’s to visit with families waiting for loved ones to come out of surgery as well as spend time with admitted patients requesting to see a therapy dog. Medical staff review requests to ensure the visit is not disruptive to patient care. The program started with two dogs and now there are eight.

Burwell witnesses the impact of therapy dogs with every visit. For many patients, like those recovering from stroke, the focus during their physical, occupational or speech therapy sessions is so much on getting better; they may not see the progress they are making. That is, until one of the certified therapy dogs visits.

“For instance, there was a patient terrified to walk without a supportive harness, but walking with one of the therapy dogs took her mind off of her fear and she no longer wanted the harness,” Burwell said.

At Carle Foundation Hospital, patients may get a physician referral or request a therapy dog visit through the monitor in their room. Each patient situation is evaluated prior to a visit from a therapy dog.

Categories: Culture of Quality, Staying Healthy, Community

Tags: dogs, patients, therapy