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Toni Talks about PT Today

The Healing Power of Animals

Published September 27, 2011 2:32 PM by Toni Patt

The third week of every month, the rehab unit is visited by a group of "caring critters." That isn't their real name, just how I think of them. These critters are dogs and cats that have been certified as therapy animals. Their owners bring them into the hospital and take them around to visit the patients. Normally our visitors include four to six dogs and an occasional cat. The smallest is a furry Chihuahua. The largest is an Anatolian Shepherd who weighs more than I do.

With rare exceptions everyone, staff included, is excited to see our critters arrive. Everyone has their favorite critter. The patients immediately light up when they see them coming down the halls. Everyone wants to pet the dogs. Sometimes the small one sits in a lap. Even the less responsive patients seem happy to have a visit. I know I could stop what I'm doing and pet the dogs.

The relationship between humans and animals is a strong one. Health care is finally starting to realize it. Some nursing homes allow residents to keep pets with them. Others have live-in pets. I am aware of at least four groups of "caring critters" within the Houston area that visit various hospitals and other facilities. If I were admitted to a nursing home, I would want to keep whatever pet I owned at the time.

The acute portion of the hospital even has a program where patients' pets can be brought to them while hospitalized. This has given rise to many discussions about how to convince my horse to get into an elevator or how to horse-proof a hospital. For many, a pet is the closest thing to family. Having that family member visit means a lot. I can't count the number of rooms I go into that have walls plastered with pictures of pets.

I know it makes them feel better. Being in the hospital or a SNF isn't fun. It can be lonely. Patients tend to worry. They miss their pets. To many, it truly is like missing a family member. When I'm upset, I want to pet my horses. Stroking something warm and furry is comforting. Having that warm, furry snuggle next to you is calming and reassuring. It's too bad the critters only stay for a short while. I think they accomplish a lot over the course of a day.

I hope the critters keep on coming. I also hope they increase the frequency, although that is asking a lot of the owners who bring them for the visits. I can't imagine a hospital allowing a unit to have a live-in pet but it would be nice. Many areas have fish, but fish don't cut it. You can't pet a fish.


Toni, I have had a very bad experience invoving the non use of a gait belt following knee replacement. Please contact me so I can discuss this with you and get your opinion. Thank You Bill Martin

William Martin October 4, 2011 9:18 PM
Woodstock GA


From a patient perspective, incorporating pet visits into the healing process is a super dose of positive!  Psychologically,  pets simply provide a nurturing dynamic that translates into the healing process so well.  For me it was such a tremendous boost for depression (PTSD), I adopted three dogs over three years that have proven to be constant stabilizers.

Sometimes pets can be better than family, not just the closest thing!

Don't know if you read new comments to old posts.  Left a comment to your 27 Jul 2011 post - please read it.  Thanks again for all you do!

Vasco September 27, 2011 3:12 PM

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