Edward's 100,000th Animal-Assisted Therapy patient visit featured in the Chicago Tribune.
Dogs lift patients' spirits at Edward Hospital
By Bob Goldsborough | Special to the Tribune
July 15, 2009
Wendy Yellin has taken her 7-year-old golden retriever, Becky, to Edward Hospital many times to visit with patients as part of the Naperville hospital's Animal-Assisted Therapy program, but she cannot help being amazed by the dog's impact.
"It's almost indescribable," said the Naperville woman. "You see firsthand the effects that the dogs have and how they help people get through any crisis that they might be having. They make them feel better."
Started in February 2002 with 15 teams of dogs and handlers, Edward's Animal-Assisted Therapy program recently celebrated its 100,000th patient visit. The program has 84 dogs of 40 breeds.
Their handlers take them to patients in nine units in the hospital -- essentially everywhere except the intensive-care unit and labor and delivery -- and let patients pet the animals or have them sit on their beds.
Designed to alleviate patient pain, the program has had a demonstrable impact, said Patty Kaplan, who directs the program. An Edward study showed that patients who receive dog visits require half the pain medication of patients who do not, and outside studies corroborate the findings, she said.
The program was the brainchild of Edward's president and chief executive officer, Pam Davis. The program, she said, helps patients attain peace and relaxation, "which is highly difficult in this setting."
"I get the most letters from patients about the Animal-Assisted Therapy program," Davis said. "They always comment on good patient care and how everything at the hospital is excellent, but I get the most letters about having the animal come and visit and come up on their beds. It has made a huge difference. It actually is a huge emotional boost for our employees too."
Kaplan, who has a nursing background, launched the program and manages it, overseeing the handlers and the screening process.
"The big thing usually is the level of training for the dog," she said. "Then dogs are tested on obedience and temperament. Out of the handlers and dogs that we test, we really only have about a 30 percent pass rate. Once they pass the testing, they are required to go into 30 hours of training, and only after that are they ready to be in the hospital."
Having animals visit with patients is "a moment in the day that takes the patient's mind off of why they're there," Kaplan said. "The dog might be on the bed with the patient or by the side of the bed where the patient can interact with and pet the dog. A lot of their interaction is with the handler, too, who might be the only visitor the patient has during the day."
Only dogs in the program are allowed in the hospital; personal pets cannot visit patients.
Geraldine Heinzel, a nurse manager in the orthopedic/neurology unit at Edward, was in a pilot program. She called the Animal-Assisted Therapy program a hit from the get-go.
"Patients really enjoy the dogs because they're awake and they can talk and enjoy that few minutes when they're not thinking about their pain and the discomfort of their surgery," Heinzel said. "The majority of our patients say they want an animal visit."
Handler Cynthia Brooks said she learned of the program through a newspaper ad and saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community. Now, though, Brooks said she feels that she and her two Yorkshire terriers, 13-year-old Libbey and 2-year-old Greta Grace, benefit from the program as much as the patients.
"What you get back seems to be so much more than you feel you gave," Brooks said. "As soon as a patient sees the dogs, they get this big smile on their face. We have some people who miss their animals tremendously while they're in the hospital, and we get a few happy tears and just a lot of smiles and stories. It's just a wonderful experience."
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services