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Pet therapy teams needed to visit hospital patients and staff

Research shows that being in the company of a pet can have a soothing impact on patients, lowering blood pressure and anxiety levels.

Published Jul 8th, 2022
Pet Therapy at USA Health

USA Health is looking for a few good dogs and their like-minded owners to join the pet therapy program at the region's only academic health system. 

From tiny to tall, a variety of dogs of varying breeds, including a doberman, golden retrievers and even a few Heinz-57 mutts have brightened the spirits of children and adults at USA Health hospitals in recent years. While the pandemic paused the program for a while, human and canine teams once again are visiting each week with patients and their caregivers.

"We now have a trainer in the area so we are able to fast-track those who want to volunteer at the hospital with their pet," said Rebekah Blanchard, director of volunteer services for USA Health. "The teams have to go through a training process to become certified to see patients." 

Previously, potential pet therapy teams were required to travel to Mississippi or Florida to meet the training requirements to become certified to visit hospitalized patients. 

Research shows that being in the company of animals often can have a soothing effect on people, helping to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety. The pet therapy initiative is part of the Mapp Child and Family Life Program at Children's & Women's Hospital and also part of volunteer services at University Hospital.

"Seeing the joy on a child's face when a dog enters a hospital room is such a gratifying experience," Blanchard said. "Our pet therapy teams are an integral part of normalizing the hospital experience for children and adults. They truly make a difference." 

How to become certified

Pet therapy teams must be certificated by Pet Partners before they can start the volunteer application process at USA Health. To begin the certification process, visit petpartners.org and create an account.  Go to the volunteer center page, click on the resource library link located on the right, and search on handler guide. A choice of Pet Partners Handler Guide should be visible. 

After reviewing the guide, go to the training center, register for the online handler's course and start it.  When you are about halfway through, go back to the training center and sign up for team Evaluation. Choose one of the handler classes. 

Pet therapy volunteer application

Pet therapy handlers, who cannot be employees of USA Health, also must complete a USA Health volunteer application once they are certified through the Pet Partners program.

When do the teams visit?

Pet therapy teams typically visit University Hospital on Wednesday afternoons and Children’s & Women’s Hospital on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for up to an hour and a half.

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