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Pet Therapy Has Healing Power

Pet therapy is present at most Samaritan‑affiliated hospitals and for nearly two decades dogs have walked through the halls of Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center comforting patients and staff as part of a pet therapy program. Although the program took a hiatus during the COVID‑19 pandemic, it is slowly coming back, starting with therapy for staff.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that a 10‑minute visit from a therapy dog can help relieve patients’ pain in the emergency room.

The University of Saskatchewan study looked at emergency room patients who were visited by a therapy dog. Those seen by the canines reported less pain than those who did not receive a therapy dog visit.

At Good Sam, the dogs currently visit staff weekly in the Elizabeth Starker Cameron Healing Garden.

“You feel the stress melt off,” said Kiana Rust while visiting a whippet named Jackson. “I work in the video monitoring department. We get a lot of interaction over the screen, but not a lot in person. I like being able to come say hello to some of the staff.”

The program, which has been around since the mid‑1990s, uses therapy dogs certified through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Over time, the program grew to include other patient care areas including the cancer center.

“I receive my therapy by looking out my window and seeing employees engaging with the pet therapy dogs,” said Luanne Barnes, director of volunteer services. “It is really heartwarming as it benefits coworkers and the patients they care for.”

Currently nine dogs and handlers participate in the program with at least two scheduled for each of the sessions with staff.

“You can just see the staff member relax,” said Melinda Gibbins, volunteer coordinator. “You can see their mind empty and just focus on that immediate moment.” Staff members pet and snuggle with the dogs and engage in conversations with their handlers during the current lunch time sessions.

“Coming out, petting a dog and getting some love, reminds you that this is a loving environment,” said Marissa Alger, clinic technician.