Laughter can be the best medicine. So, the sight of Reno, a 4-year-old pet therapy Shetland sheepdog riding his skateboard down a Mercy hallway gives patients a nice dose of it.
Bob Good, Reno’s owner, has been volunteering at Mercy since 2009, with Reno the last two years. He said if he can take patients’ minds off why they are in the hospital, even for five minutes, he’s done his job.
At Mercy, therapy dogs and their owners are volunteers who visit patients for many different reasons. They help provide normalcy for patients who have pets at home, companionship and activity during hospitalization, boost spirits of patients recovering from illness or surgery, and give extra motivation to heal.
Thyme, a 9-year-old Australian shepherd pet therapy dog has been coming to Mercy for three years. Thyme’s owner Kit Conn-Glenz pointed out that while Thyme is providing therapy to patients, he thinks it’s all about him. “It’s like a spa day for Thyme. He has a bath, gets his coat brushed and then comes to the hospital for all sorts of attention and cuddles from patients.”
Pet therapy dogs go through extensive training and must meet certain requirements before visiting patients at Mercy.
“People are often surprised we have a pet therapy program,” said Lauren Lee, manager of Volunteer and Guest Services at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “We work with several accredited organizations and have 20 pet therapy volunteers who visit various areas of the hospital on different days throughout each month.”
Studies have shown that pet therapy can help reduce anxiety in hospital patients. One study by the American Heart Association showed a 12-minute visit with a man’s best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures and diminishing release of harmful hormones in heart failure patients.
Reno visited heart patient Mary Krummey who thinks the program is “awesome.” She said, “People who love dogs, can’t help but love it. Especially on the heart floor, it can be very calming.”
Kids also love having visits from pets. At Mercy Children’s Hospital, Child Life Specialist Quienton Townsend said everyone becomes a dog lover when the therapy dogs are around. “If they had opposable thumbs, I’d be out of a job,” joked Townsend. “The power a dog has here is incredible. A kid could shut down and not want to do physical therapy or get out of bed, but when a dog comes in, it changes everything.”