Dogs are more than man’s best friend
From Spotlight on Health - Winter 2010
The relationship between man and dog is as old as time. Dogs have been at our side to hunt, herd, protect and be our companions.
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) dogs have been used at St. Cloud Hospital since 1996. J.P. Martin, an AAT evaluator from Royalton, helped start the program with beloved Kat, an English Springer Spaniel, who died in September 2007.
AAT dogs and handlers are St. Cloud Hospital volunteers who have completed extensive training. More than just companionship, the dogs are used to provide a specific healing outcome.
The first visit occurred when Martin, known for his bond with Kat, was asked to visit a critically ill child. When the child didn’t survive, Martin “promised that I would continue to do all I can, to make what life there is, worthwhile.”
The program continues with Springers Secret and Rice, owned by Martin, and Billie, a female Golden Retriever, owned by Marlene Dingmann.
The dogs have the innate ability to sense what the patient needs. They decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure and improve deep breathing.
Animal-Assisted Therapy dogs also help with pain management in children, decreasing their pain significantly, according to a recent study by Carie Braun, associate professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, and colleagues, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
AAT dog referrals can be requested through the patient’s nurse. Therapy dog, Billie, visited Courtney Roberts while she was hospitalized for asthma in July 2009. Roberts, Sauk Rapids, who was grieving the death of her service dog of 15 years, said Billie’s visit was a turning point in her healing.
“Billie knew I was hurting and put her head on my heart. Billie was there with all good intentions. No ego, just unconditional love,” Roberts said.
Billie stayed with Roberts longer than usual as Roberts petted her. “With every stroke, it was healing.”