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Dog Visits For Hospital Patients: Because All Family Members Matter

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Wouldn't these faces cheer you up?

When my mother was a child, she was hospitalized quite often. Back then, her mother wasn’t allowed to stay with her as much as parents can today, but she visited her daily and made one visit particularly memorable.

My mother has told this story many times and it always puts a smile on my face. My grandmother was telling my mom how their cat recently had kittens. My mother, a huge animal lover since birth, was so excited but also sad because she wanted to see them. Soon after, my grandmother came in for her usual visit and was holding her winter coat a bit funny, almost cradling the stomach area. Then she sat down and pulled out a kitten. My mother’s face lit up and I can only imagine how seeing that one little kitty that she so longed to meet, cheered her up as a sick kid stuck in a hospital bed.

Young or old, animals bring us joy. Now many years later, some hospitals are recognizing just how much animals can help many patients. While several hospitals have instituted pet therapy programs in which a trained specialist will bring a similarly trained dog to a patient for therapeutic means, a few select hospitals are now allowing visits from the patient’s own pets.

One such hospital is Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Two-year-old Madison Fleaks, who has been in the hospital for six months straight awaiting a heart transplant is one pint-sized patient who has been able to have her dog make a special visit. Madison’s mom, Tabitha Fleaks says her daughter has greatly benefited from the program, and remembers the day when Madison saw their beloved pup, Kodiak, strutting into her hospital room:

“If you said anything about the dogs, she would point and want to kiss the picture. She has been sick her whole life. All she knows is me, her dad, and the two dogs. It was amazing. She just lit up. She literally screamed when he walked into the door.”

The program was started four years ago when the non-profit organization PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Houston contacted the hospital. Their stance is simple: pets are part of our families and when one of us hospitalized for a lengthy time, being able to have a visit from all family members, including furry ones, is highly beneficial.

Jamie Snow, Assistant Director of Child Life and Social Work at Texas Children’s Hospital says, “When there is a patient in the hospital that will be here for a significant amount of time, we think it is important for them to have their entire family here. And some people consider their pets family members.”

Typically, a social worker will find out if a patient has a pet at home and then contact PAWS who will take over, performing the necessary actions required to get a dog evaluated for a hospital visit, including ensuring that the dog has had its shots, a bath and been checked for good behavior. The hospital says it has never had a poor outcome of a dog visit, no bites or infections.

On the contrary, having a pet visit can turn around a patient’s recovery. Donna Dishman, co-founder and executive director of PAWS Houston said their very first personal pet visit was an 83-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer. She was placed in intensive care and not faring very well:

“[She] was not eating, not responding, and had given up. When we put her dog on her bed, she started talking, and started eating.”

The power of pets, there’s nothing like it.

Image: Flickr/ srkL

Follow Danielle on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest (where she maintains an ‘Adorable Pups’ board), or find her at her blog, Just Write Mom and Babble’s Strollerderby.

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