The Dog Therapy program at Banner Heart Hospital and Banner Baywood Medical Center began with two volunteers — one with fur and one without.
Program coordinators now are seeking more dogs and handlers to expand the program at both Banner Heart and Banner Baywood to bring puppy cheer to patients and families.
Dog therapy gives patients and visitors a break from stress. Research has proven that petting a dog can reduce blood pressure and alleviate stress.
Dogs and handlers must go through training. The four-legged volunteers are tested during an initial meeting with an observer, and then again during three or four separate observations in the hospital before being admitted to the program. The observer is a volunteer from Therapy Dogs Inc., a non-profit group that oversees the Dog Therapy programs at all Banner Health hospitals. After testing is complete, Therapy Dogs Inc., will certify the dog to work in a health care environment.
Therapy Dogs Inc. training takes about a month. Observers look for:
A dog's comfort level with being touched.
How responsive and friendly the dog is around people, children and other dogs.
If dogs have a tendency to bark, become hostile or get too excited around people, they could be disqualified from the program.
The two-legged volunteers must go through the usual volunteer application process, which includes filling out an application, having an interview and getting a TB test. Because dogs and handlers work as teams, handlers must be able to engage patients in friendly, lighthearted conversations. Their ability to communicate with their dog also is a key measurement for Therapy Dogs Inc.
Once handlers and their dogs are certified to participate in Dog Therapy, they usually visit the hospital one day a week. The dogs visit the non-critical areas of the hospitals like Telemetry and waiting rooms.
Handlers and dogs will spend about three or four hours doing rounds. Handlers must respectfully enter a room and ask the patient if they would like a visit with a dog. Visits usually last up to 10 minutes, and handlers must know when to leave so that patients have privacy and time to rest.
Anyone from the community, along with their dog, is invited to volunteer in the Dog Therapy program. All dogs must have current rabies shots and be well-groomed. It is also helpful if dogs have passed a general obedience course.
For more information about the Dog Therapy program or to volunteer, contact Volunteer Services at (480) 321-4122.