Family Health

Pets Help Patients Heal at Baptist Memorial Hospital

Feb 20 • 2019

How Pet Therapy Makes Hospital Stays Happier for Patients

If you’re feeling nervous about a hospital stay or trip to the emergency department, you’re not alone. Many people feel anxious or stressed when they find themselves in need of medical assistance or a hospital stay. To help patients and their families feel more at ease, some Baptist Memorial hospitals offer pet therapy, also called animal-assisted therapy, during hospital stays to reduce stress, increase overall happiness and provide a sense of companionship.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets not only reduce stress but also lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Baptist incorporates pet therapy into several areas, including pre-operative and post-operative settings, doctor’s lounges, medical-surgical and antepartum units, the pediatric emergency room, administrative offices and more.

What is animal-assisted therapy?

The pet therapy program at Baptist provides patients an opportunity to interact with well trained dogs and their owners. Volunteer handlers donate their time to help make patients feel comfortable in the hospital.

“Our pet therapy program provides individuals with a few moments of escape from what can often be a very stressful situation,” said Missy Clifton, manager of guest services at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women. “Pets and their owners come to visit weekly, typically on Tuesday afternoons.”

According to Clifton, the dogs visit patients, staff and physicians. Unlike service dogs who are specially trained to help individuals with a disability, such as a visual impairment or mobility limitation, a therapy dog provides affection by allowing people to pet it and spend time with it.

“Therapy animals sit near a patient’s bed, act as a furry friend for children and make everyone smile when they walk in the hallways,” said Clifton.

What are the benefits of therapy animals?

Animal-assisted therapy can help people with a range of health problems, including dementia, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and depression.

“The presence of therapy animals in a hospital setting is known to lower blood pressure and bring on an overall feeling of calm,” said Clifton. “This can be very beneficial for our long-term guests or for those about to undergo a procedure. For our pediatric patients, it can provide a good distraction during a scary time.”

Many therapy animals participate in training and certification courses. At Baptist, staff members take health and safety precautions before volunteer handlers and dogs enter a patient’s room. Therapy dog teams are escorted by hospital personnel to pre-screened patients in various areas of the hospital.

“We check for allergies and the possibility of adverse reactions,” said Clifton. “Therapy dog teams visit for a maximum of two hours. The length of time for each interaction is determined by both the dog and the person they are visiting.”

By welcoming trained dogs into the environment, Baptist aims to normalize the hospital experience for children and adults. The program is available on Baptist’s Memphis and Collierville campuses, including the Baptist Reynolds Hospice House. Clifton says the program provides therapeutic value to patients during their stay.

“These animals are specifically trained to provide comfort to everyone they meet,” said Clifton. “These exceptional dogs are well-behaved, well-groomed animals that have such a calming effect on our patients, staff and guests.”

Learn more about volunteer services and opportunities at Baptist. Find a doctor by visiting our Find a Physician page.