Animal-Assisted Therapy celebrates ten years.
Edward Animal-Assisted Therapy marks 10 years
Naperville Sun commentary
By Tim West
February 14, 2012
When I go to Edward Hospital these days, which is frequently, my SUV doesn’t really need to be driven.
It just sort of automatically heads straight for the parking garage and looks for a space closest to either the Edward Cancer Center or the Heart Hospital, whichever my destination is on that particular day.
The previous week, it was the cancer center.
On Monday, June 13, it was the Heart Hospital.
But this time the good folks at the hospital weren’t going to keep me there, or poke a needle in me or do some sort of medical procedure.
It was a social visit.
A celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Animal Assisted Therapy program was being held in the lobby and since I have benefitted greatly from that program over the years, I went to Edward to note the event.
The program consists of animals and their handlers visiting hospital patients who have agreed when they sign into the hospital that they would like to be visited by a dog.
The animals are all specially trained to be gentle, docile and “not overly vocal,” with patients.
That last was particularly interesting at Monday’s celebration, which included some 30 dogs along with their handlers.
During the entire 45 minutes or so that I was there, not one of the animals barked, growled, whined or made any noise at all.
The handlers explained that the dogs knew they were at work and they weren’t supposed to make noise when they were on the job.
It actually was very strange being amidst a large number of canines none of whom had anything to say to one another.
But then they all have to be very well trained before they are allowed into hospital rooms.
Jim Stenfeldt of the CM Academy of Dog Training, who works with the program, explained that the training isn’t so much directly for the dogs, but rather to train the handlers to train the dogs.
Up until this week the program has had 83 active teams, but thanks to a recruiting campaign, a dozen more teams have just been added, bringing the number of 95.
The handlers are all volunteers who give a lot of time and spend a fair amount of bucks to get their dogs trained — this is one of the many ways Naperville’s spirit of volunteerism comes shining through in the community.
In the 10 years the program has been active at Edward, there have been some l20,000 patient visits, program director Patty Kaplan said.
There are 45 different breeds of dogs in the program, and the largest pooch at the current time is Lisa Pinnello’s English mastiff Payton (Yes, he’s named after Walter Payton) who weighs in at 195 pounds.
Jill Lueken, a retired teacher, who has been in the program for a couple of years with her standard poodle, Rudy, said that she got involved because she wanted to give back to the community.
One of the smaller dogs in the program is Lumpi, a long-haired dachshund who was there with Barb Koch. I’ve met up with Lumpi and her owner during several of my frequent visits to Edward and the two of them always brighten my day.
A couple of recent studies have shown that animal therapy programs have benefits beyond the feel-good aspect.
One study, done at Edward, reveals that people who have visits from dogs in the days after surgery used half the pain medication of those who did not.
Another, at the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute, seemed to show faster improvement by patients, particularly stroke patients, who worked with therapy dogs as part of their rehabilitation. The patients in the trial also by a wide majority expressed pleasure at the results and at working with the dogs.
Pam Davis, hospital president and CE0, thanked all the handlers for the time they put into the AAT program and said that the hospital staff really appreciated their effort.
So do I.
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services