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  • Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Want more information?

Call Rena Sespene-Hinz, MSW, LISW, ACSW, C-ASWCM, 320-251-2700, ext. 52257 -or- Volunteer Services, 320-255-5638, e-mail us

In Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), a certified handler and animal assists in the treatment of patients to achieve specific health care goals. AAT helps promote physical, social, emotional and/or mental healing. AAT is performed under the direction of a health care provider. AAT dogs and handlers are St. Cloud Hospital volunteers who have completed extensive training.

What are the benefits of AAT?

Human-animal interaction can provide benefits to adults and children in the health care setting. The use of a trained therapy animal in collaboration with a health care professional can enhance the mental and emotional well being, physical rehabilitation and medical recuperation of a patient. A visit by an AAT dog in the hospital also has shown to positively affect the well being of family members, visitors and staff.

Benefits include:Animal Assisted Therapist with patient

  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved deep breathing
  • Strengthening fine motor skills
  • Pain management assistance
  • Improved emotional and mental well-being
  • Immunity boost
  • Helps patients with physical therapy

What types of animals can be used in AAT?

Currently only dogs are used to provide animal-assisted therapy at St. Cloud Hospital.

What areas of the hospital do AAT dogs visit?

AAT dogs currently visit most areas of St. Cloud Hospital including Pediatrics, Oncology, Adult Intensive Care Unit , Family Birthing Unit, Behavioral Health Unit, Neurology/Spine Unit, Telemetry, Bone & Joint Unit and Medical/Surgical Unit. AAT dogs also visit the Coborn Cancer Center at CentraCare Health Plaza.

How do I request an AAT visit?

Patients at St. Cloud Hospital can request visits by AAT dogs through their nurse who will make a referral to the AAT therapy program. The time of the visit will depend on the volunteer team schedule. Please note, the AAT animal is restricted from visiting patients who are in isolation precautions, infectious disease precautions, have open wounds or if visits are not recommended by the health care team.

What are the criteria to practice AAT throughout St. Cloud Hospital?

  • Pass certification in Animal-Assisted Therapy
  • Complete basic obedience training (copies of specific achievements, degrees)
  • Registration and evaluation with Delta Society (national therapy animal organization)
  • Dog must be at least 1 year old and have a calm temperament, be obedient, gentle, and have a positive social manner and disposition that works well with patients of all ages.
  • Complete the hospital screening, training and orientation 

What are the volunteering requirements?

Volunteers are an integral part of the health care team who share a common objective of providing Care Above All for our patients and their families. A commitment to a regular weekly volunteer schedule is recommended. For more information about becoming a volunteer, please contact Volunteer Services.

When did the AAT program begin?

Animal Assisted Therapy groupThe Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) program at St. Cloud Hospital started in 1996 with handler J.P. Martin and his beloved dog, Kat, an English Springer Spaniel who died in 2007. Martin is an AAT evaluator and dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience in obedience training with all types of dogs. He has assisted St. Cloud Hospital in evaluating and certifying AAT dogs and their handlers to work as volunteers in the AAT Program. The AAT Program is dedicated to complementing the health care interventions provided by the medical team and continuing the comfort and healing mission of St. Cloud Hospital.

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