Tedd Rosenfeld likes telling the story of how he got a hospital patient to finally sleep for a short while after she experienced three days of sleepless anxiety before an operation. While he is not a doctor, he has a remedy in the form of his beloved dog Gus.
“I was visiting in orthopedics and there was a woman who called us in, and she owned dogs. She was a dog lover, and her request was to get Gus into bed with her. Gus is 114 pounds, and the beds aren’t that big. But she was insistent,” Rosenfeld, a Pawsitive Pet Program Volunteer, said.
“So we slowly eased Gus into bed, and he got in with her and she reached up and touched him on the ears and brought his head down on his chest. And the two of them fell asleep.”
This is one of the many illustrations of Saint John’s Health Center’s Paula Kent Meehan Pawsitive Pet Program’s effects on participating patients. Volunteers and program coordinators can recall stories of dogs alleviated a patients’ loneliness, and even lowering blood pressure.
It is not just the patients who benefit from the in-house program, which has been in place at the Santa Monica hospital for almost two years.
“We bring a lot to helping the staff. We’ve had doctors who have had a bad day come in and just say, ‘can I spend a few seconds with your dog?’ And the ICU nurses will hug the dogs… because their jobs are so stress-filled,” Rosenfeld said.
Not every dog is right for the program. The dogs and owners must pass a thorough evaluation that tests behavior and temperament, and simulates some of the unexpected things that can happen in a hospital.
“I think it’s important that you have the right dogs in the program. But the real important thing that I’m looking for in the team is the trust that builds between the handler and the dog,” Nancy Lippman, volunteer and pet-partner evaluator, said.
Once they have been approved, the dog-owner “team” can proceed with monthly, if not usually weekly, visits.
“What you see when you walk in the room is people’s smiles,” Rosenfeld said.
“It just opens up the patient… you just see the break in tension in the room. It’s something that we’re grateful that we’re able to come in to do it. The biggest impression you get is the smiles.
For more information regarding the Paula Kent Meehan Pawsitive Pet Program, please call the Saint John’s Volunteer Office at 310.829.8438.