By Sarah McClanahan
Isn’t it amazing the way a pet can make someone feel better? At Lexington Medical Center, a pet therapy program designed to help patients does just that. Pet therapy is a program that allows registered, trained dogs to come and visit patients in the hospital. This type of therapy can assist in the physical and emotional healing process. Pet therapy has been shown to decrease stress, decrease blood pressure and improve patient outcomes during their hospital stay. Even petting an animal encourages the use of hands and arms, stretching and turning. Each visit provides patients with a welcome distraction from routine, pain and illness. They are more active and responsive during and after visits with a pet therapy team. In addition, these visits provide entertainment and a chance to share thoughts, feelings and memories.
The Pet Therapy Program at LMC began in September 2007. Ann Bethea, director of Volunteer Services, and Dr. Shonda Asaad, a physician at Lexington Oncology Associates, assembled a team to develop a pet program policy. Once the policy was approved, Dr. Asaad and her registered Labrador, Thunder, started visiting cancer patients in the oncology unit.
The program has grown to 16 teams from two different pet therapy organizations, Therapy Dogs Inc. and Delta Society Prescription Paws. Several of these teams visit with patients weekly in the Emergency Department, the Intensive Care Unit or on the 3rd-8th floors of South Tower. Any dog, regardless of breed, color or size can become a pet therapy volunteer. Currently, the only service animals at LMC are dogs, ranging in breed from a Great Dane to a Miniature Schnauzer. All LMC volunteer dogs must be registered with a national pet therapy organization. For more information on how you and your pet can volunteer in the Pet Therapy Program at LMC, call Volunteer Services at 791-2573.