The Love of a Dog – Canine Therapy at SWMC

Beginning June 1, patients at Sonoma West Medical Center can expect a whole new level of caring, and the difference will be made with the start of a new canine therapy program.  Coordinated by Deborah Ard, R.N., the canine therapy program is something the staff has wanted to implement since the beginning.  “We’ve already become accustomed to having Dr. Gude’s wonderful dog, Charlie, here a couple of times a week.  The patients and the staff just love seeing Charlie pad down the corridors.  I wanted to do something that was a real program.” IMG_5547

For most people, visiting a hospital can be both stressful and taxing on their emotions.  No matter how nice your surroundings are – for a hospital – you are most likely feeling worried, lonely, possibly tired and stressed from your condition.  Now imagine a sweet dog with golden fur and its smiling human ‘handler’ appear in your doorway offering you a visit.  You spend some time stroking the dog’s fur, while he rests his head on your lap.  You start to feel a little less stressed and a little more optimistic as each stroke lessens your worry and discomfort.

This feeling of ease is just what the team at Sonoma West Medical Center and a canine therapy program called Creating Wellness want to create for patients and their families. Creating Wellness is a non-profit therapy dog program; founded 30 years ago by Roz Morris. The program trains volunteers and their dogs to work together to provide comfort to patients and family members in hospital settings.  “I put this program together because I wanted to make a difference in patients’ lives, with the love of a dog,” explained Morris.

Roz has established relationships with 38 care facilities in Sonoma and Marin Counties to ‘Create Wellness’ for the patients…and to help facilitate healing, using all the unconditional love that a dog has to give. With this mission statement in mind, Roz began the journey to re-establish this program at Sonoma West Medical Center.  The therapeutic benefits of dogs are becoming more of a regular occurrence in hospitals, care facilities, university campuses, and even airports.  Studies have shown that dogs are a depression antidote, lower blood pressure and help people maintain positive attitudes.  With this in mind, it is the hope that these therapy dogs help those recovering in hospitals, heal faster and healthier.  Petting a dog, or any animal, can lower blood pressure and ease stress.

IMG_5540For the next few weeks of May, Rody, Gabi and one other therapy dog will be taking courses with Deb Ard, learning just how to interact with patients, their families and even the staff at the hospital.  Rody is a golden labradoodle and Gabi is a grey labradoodle.  Both dogs have a combined 17 years of canine therapy experience between them.  Gabi has been a certified therapy dog for one year; however, she has seven years of uncertified experience providing unconditional love and healing to people in various care facilities, according to her owner Liz Hagen.  Liz and Gabi plan to work together in the waiting rooms to ease stress of family members awaiting news.  Gabi will work closely with supporting Sonoma West Medical Center staff as well, to ease their stress.

Rody, an energetic dog, has been working as a therapy dog since he was a pup, providing stress reducing snuggles at a bigger hospital, until his handler Rick recently decided to bring him to Sonoma West Medical Center.  While I was meeting Rody, a young patient walked by with her nurse, wearing a hospital gown and pulling her IV pole beside her.  Without hesitation, Rody trotted right up to her, tail wagging to offer his head for a pat.  She giggled as she gently leaned over to run her fingers through his fur.  It was easy to see that this chance encounter with Rody left the patient feeling uplifted as she walked away smiling.

For more about Creating Wellness, please visit:

http://www.creating-wellness.net

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