It only takes a few minutes with an Animal Assisted Therapy dog at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica to ease the tension in the room.
When Kathy Gura and her Labradoodle Basha make the rounds of the patient wards during the day, Kathy said she can feel the difference it makes.
“I like the fact that it makes patients smile,” she said. “You know when you walk in that if they haven’t slept all night or they are stressed out and don’t feel well — sometimes they’ve just come out of a surgical procedure — and when you leave the room they are laughing and smiling.”
Kathy Gura and her Animal Assisted Therapy dog Basha, a Labradoodle, at Providene Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica. Photo by Westside People
While being in a hospital can feel endless and filled with stress, receiving a visit from a friendly K-9 often triggers memories of their childhood pet and it can be the perfect diversion that can actually reduce pain levels, Gura said.
“What I’ve observed is a lowering of patient’s pain threshold when the animals are around,” she said. “One patient said when we came into the room she was at an ‘eight’ on the pain scale and right then was at a ‘three.’ I’ve seen it over and over.”
Grenda Pearlman, who heads volunteer services at the hospital, said the Assisted Animal Therapy program is currently looking for more volunteers. Dogs must be properly trained and take a course to be officially registered as a therapy dog. Other than that, it’s pretty easy.
“The dog has to have a really good temperament and be predictable,” Grenda said. “Sit down come and leave it and can do it every time on demand without food. You can’t have food in the hospital.”
The dogs also have a huge benefit to the staff.
“To be able to sit down and pet a dog for a few minutes makes a huge difference,” she said. “When the dogs arrive on their floor they just all flock toward them.”
To volunteer for the program send an email to Erin.Pickerel@Providence.org