The power of pets

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The use of therapy animals has become less stigmatized over the years, and can be seen more and more often in hospitals, schools, and even colleges.

Community Hospice & Palliative Care, an innovative national leader in palliative and hospice care that was established in 1979, has taken a forefront on the use of therapy animals for its patients with the use of a Pet Therapy Program.

“Each Pet Therapy team is unique and skilled in providing just the right amount of love an attention to our patients and their families,” said Dan Batty, manager of volunteer services, in a press release.

The Pet Therapy Program began in the late 1990s but did not really pick up popularity until the last decade or so. The rise in popularity comes from new studies conducted on the benefits of therapy animals in social and medical situations, such as their ability to lower blood pressure and decrease stress/anxiety.

Maria Oehler, a Pet Therapy Program volunteer with Community Hospice, has been bringing her therapy animals to patients in long term facilities for years now. All pet therapy volunteers are onboarded through other therapy teams and trained on how to assist patients. The animals brought to the therapy program are all registered through the state.

Not only do the dogs in the Pet Therapy Program benefit the patients, but Oehler said the animals also help both the families and the staff, too. They can often provide happiness and laughter in an otherwise dark situation, Oehler explained.

It is easy for the dogs to develop relationships with the patients Oehler visits in the facilities, and she said it can sometimes be difficult for the animals when the people they have formed relationships with are no longer around, but the joy that the dogs bring and the light in people’s faces can make it all worth it.

“I have shown dogs for over 40 years,” said Oehler. “I would give it all back just to do this. Nothing I have ever done with my dogs has been as rewarding as this.”

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