Pet therapy brings smiles to patients

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By  Koertni Blackketter
Special to the Citizen
The joy that a pet can bring is unlike any other. However, there comes a time in everyone’s life when having a pet is no longer a feasible option. Because of this, Haven Hospice has created a pet therapy program. Through this program, inpatients are still able to experience the joy that only a pet can bring.
“I love looking at the patients’ faces when the dogs come in – just the way their faces light up,” said Elizabeth Kirce, a Haven volunteer coordinator. “It’s particularly great for those patients that have had dogs before and love dogs but can’t have them anymore.”
If a pet owner is interested in becoming involved with Haven’s pet therapy program, he or she simply brings in the pet for evaluation. Both the pet and the owner then go through a special training process. Sandy Scott, a St. Augustine resident, has entered her dog, Pearl, into the program.
“Research shows that having pets around elderly people can be very beneficial and therapeutic,” Scott said.
Scott and Pearl have been involved in the program since January. They now go into assisted living homes every week for about an hour or two. The patients then get to talk to and pet Pearl.
“In my professional life I was a counselor,” Scott said. “So I know that pets can make a big difference in a person’s life. As we walk around, people smile and get very happy. It’s a very rewarding thing to see how people respond.”
When Scott first introduced Pearl into the pet therapy program, Haven helped to throw a welcoming party for them. Pearl’s first therapeutic visit was to Ameritis, an assisted living home in St. Augustine.
“They had punch and a cake that said ‘Welcome Pearl!’ The residents came into the activity room and got to meet Pearl that day. They were all overjoyed. It was really great,” Scott said.
Bringing in pets is a good alternative method for patients to express their emotions.
A lot of the patients love being able to talk to a pet because talking to a pet can sometimes be easier than talking to another person.
Being able to provide patients with this extra level of happiness is a blessing. The pet therapy program has been very successful so far, and it is safe to say that it has become a point of pride for Haven Hospice.