UC Health Pet Therapy Program Brings Joy and Comfort to Many

What reduces anxiety, depression and blood pressure without harsh side effects? The answer is in 44 percent of US houses: dogs.

Several women hold various types of dogs.

UC Health’s pet therapy dogs and their handlers reduce stress and increase comfort for our patients.

In celebration of National Dog Day on Aug. 26th, UC Health wants to provide a proverbial scratch behind the ears and a pat on the head to the 50 dogs in our Volunteer Services Pet Therapy program.

“Our pet therapy program exists to take stress away from our patients,” says Sheila Maxwell, director of volunteer services at UC Health. “They provide so much comfort to patients that we see them as a pain management tool, similar to massage or other therapies.”

For more than a decade, dogs and their volunteer handlers have visited UC Health’s inpatient hospitals – UC Medical Center, West Chester Hospital and Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care – to bring joy and reduce suffering. The dogs, many who visit once a week, are beloved by medical staff and patients alike.

“Believe it or not, the dogs tell us where they want to volunteer,” says Maxwell. “We watch their ears, tails and stance when they are visiting the various locations, and their body language tells us where they enjoy seeing patients.”

Some, like Oliver and Luke – West Highland White Terriers who have been visiting UC Medical Center since 2012 – mostly spend time with patients in the intensive care units.

“As soon as I pull into the parking garage, they know where we are,” says owner Kristy Martin. “Oliver knows the hospital better than I do. He’ll lead me where we’re supposed to go.”

Two West Highland White Terriers sit on a chair.

Oliver and Luke enjoy their weekly visits to UC Medical Center, where they spend time with patients and families in the intensive care units.

Pet therapy at UC Health is in partnership with Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for purposes of visiting healthcare organizations. All therapy dogs go through evaluations for temperament in a hospital setting before registering with UC Health.

For volunteers who love their dogs and love giving back, it’s all worth it.

“I absolutely love volunteering,” says Martin. “It’s so rewarding to see patients’ eyes light up whenever I come into the room with one of my dogs. It makes them so happy, and you can physically see how Oliver and Luke help relieve stress.”

“I look forward to my visits every week and cannot imagine my life without it.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at UC Health, including pet therapy, by visiting our website or calling (513) 584-4875.


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