Patients in the Emergency Department at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia have a new tool to cope with the stress of illness and injury. It comes on four legs.
One day a week a volunteer walks a dog around the ER floor, poking a head into patient rooms and asking whether some time with a dog would be appreciated.
Rick Struble, who was in the hospital Thursday to receive testing for a bout of blurred vision, petted Visa, a lab/golden mix, while lying in his bed.
“It definitely helps out with the tension and the nervousness and everything,” Struble said. “It definitely works. For as long as at least the dog’s here it takes your mind away from whatever you’re in here for.”
Evidence is mixed on whether pet owners are healthier overall than non pet-owners. But studies do suggest that having a dog around can lower blood pressure during stressful situations.
Dr. Daniel Monti, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine, said illness and injury can put people into fight-or-flight mode, and distractions can help calm the body down.
“When you have something disarming like a dog that you can have a positive connection to, it actually can allow the nervous system to do the opposite of that fight or flight and lower your stress level,” Monti said.
Dogs in the Jefferson program need to have a pet therapy certification (the hardest test, according to Visa’s owner: walking by a hot dog on the floor without eating it) and be up-to-date on immunizations. They do not enter rooms where conditions need to be sterile or where patients are allergic to or afraid of dogs.