dog hug

Photo courtesy of Mattheus Bertelli / Pexels

Today was the best day yet in my volunteer role as a pet therapy representative at our local hospital. Of course, the dog Rosie gets 100% of the credit; I’m just a tag-along with Rosie and her owner.

When I knock on a patient’s door and ask, “Would you like a visit from a pet therapy dog?” usually a patient’s face instantly brightens as he/she responds affirmatively.

The majority of patients tell us how much they miss their own cat or dog while staying in the hospital. As they love on Rosie, the dog owners particularly will weave the story of their dog: name, breed, age, personality traits, eating habits, and how the dog came to be theirs.

Sharing stories of beloved pets seems to make the patients feel better.

What made today special was the variety of patient interactions.

One aged frail woman thanked us over and over again for stopping in. She said, “I don’t get many visitors,” as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Thank you for visiting me, Rosie,” she called out as were leaving her room.

Another room held a patient, her husband, and a grown daughter. As she stroked Rosie, the patient asked us if it’s OK to give a dog table food. Meanwhile, the daughter was looking sheepish. It turns out she likes to supplement the family dog’s food with bacon, hot dogs, and cheese.

We found ourselves caught up in an obviously familiar family disagreement over feeding their dog. But it was one full of gentle teasing back and forth. (“I’m just saying…would YOU want to eat the same thing every day? Dogs like variety too!”)

Laughter filled the room and it felt good to leave the family in better spirits than when we found them.

Due to their medical conditions, understandably not everyone wants to visit with Rosie. But this morning one man was sitting up in a chair facing the door, and even before I voiced my question, he yelled, “I don’t want a visit from a dog! I don’t like dogs. They remind me of my ex-wife!” We smiled, nodded, and kept on walking.

My favorite patient today was an older woman who was waiting on us. Her visitors had seen the “Rosie’s on duty” sign in the lobby on their way to her room and had promised her a visit from a dog. Her face broke into a mega-watt smile as we entered her room.

Rosie has a calm demeanor so (with the patient’s approval) we lowered the side rail, and Rosie laid her head on the bed as the woman stroked her and talked to her.

Petting a dog, hugging a dog, talking to a dog is truly a healing experience for these patients.

The pet therapy program is the best “get well soon” card ever devised.