Animals have long been recognized for their contributions to both physical and mental healing. Dogs can help their owners through a seizure or calm them down during a panic attack. Some are even trained to detect differences in blood sugar. While such dogs go through extensive training to develop these skills, “everyday” pets can also offer healing benefits. This is the goal of the Prescription Pets Program at Pullman Regional Hospital, a volunteer program that allows trainers and their animals to visit and provide comfort to patients who are in the hospital for various reasons. “We offer petting, visiting, and it just allows them some distraction,” notes Kelly Sebold, Speech Language Pathologist and Prescription Pets Volunteer.
How the Prescription Pets Program Began
The Prescription Pets Program was formed as a combination of a revitalization of a previous pet visiting program at the hospital named Bustad Buddies and an act of generosity from a patient.
“I was visiting with a patient, and we were having a conversation about dogs since I’m a dog lover myself. She owned a standard poodle named Lily, and our family had just put down a standard poodle named Rico about three months prior. So, we really connected on that level,” shares Sebold. “When I returned the next day, her kids had come up from California and mentioned they had been looking to re-home her dog so she could move to be closer to them. They offered their dog to our family and it was just a great, generous act.”
Sebold registered with Pet Partners, a national organization, and after Lily went through training she was able to start visiting patients.
The Power of Pets
Research has shown that the physiological benefits of animal visits include reduced stress, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, and the release of positive hormones. In Sebold’s opinion, the sense of comfort is undeniable.
“The visits offer a really comforting distraction to patients. Not everyone wants a visit and that’s fine. But the ones that do seem to really enjoy connecting with an entity that is not necessarily a medical provider,” she says. “It can be a reminder of home, maybe of a pet they used to have, or they currently have, and they just seem to enjoy the animal portion of the visit.”
Sebold recalls two specific instances when Lily provided comfort; once to a blind woman who was slightly reluctant at first but quickly warmed up to her presence, and the other to an ER staff member who suffered extreme anxiety at the thought of getting a flu vaccine.
Want to get involved in the Prescription Pets program?
If you are interested in participating in the Prescription Pets Program, contact Kelly Sebold directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I can connect you with the dog trainer and the local service provider to help get you started,” assures Sebold. “Some people aren’t sure if their dog is a good fit, so taking them to a basic obedience course is a great way to begin.” Interested parties can also get more information at www.petpartners.org, which is the local sect of the national organization out of Bellevue, Washington.