TED SIMONS: BACK IN 1976, REGISTERED NURSE ELAINE SMITH NOTICED THAT HER PATIENTS REALLY RESPONDED WHEN THE CHAPLAIN BROUGHT HIS DOG FOR A VISIT SO, NURSE SMITH STARTED A DOG THERAPY PROGRAM. SINCE THEN, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOGS HAVE PROVIDED HOSPITAL COMFORT AND CARE. PRODUCER SHANA FISCHER AND PHOTOGRAPHER JUAN MAGANA SHOW US HOW MAN'S BEST FRIEND CAN BE MAN'S BEST MEDICINE.
SOT: SHE KNOWS IN THE GARAGE, WHERE WE ARE. SHE'S READY TO COME TO WORK.
REPORTER: UNLIKE MOST OF US, ROONEY, THE RETRIEVER, LOVES GOING TO WORK.
SOT: ARE YOU READY?
REPORTER: PART OF THE THERAPY TEAM AT CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL. THE DOGS COME EVERYDAY AND PROVIDE A MUCH NEEDED DISTRACTION. IT'S FOUR DAYS SINCE JAKE RECEIVED HIS NEW HEART. DESPITE FEELING RUN DOWN, HE WANTS A VISIT FROM ROONEY. HIS DAD SAYS IT'S LIKE A MAGICAL ELIXIR.
SOT: WE ARE DOG PEOPLE. WHEN HE COMES IN, YOU SEE HIM CHEER UP.
REPORTER: MARY LOU JENNINGS, RUNS THE THERAPY PROGRAM.
SOT: I HAVE BEEN HERE AS A PARENT. IT'S TOUGH. I KNOW THAT. I KNOW THAT FEELING.
REPORTER: JENNINGS WANTED TO USE THAT EXPERIENCE WITH HER SON J.J. AND HER BACKGROUND AS A COUNSELOR TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR FAMILIES. THERE IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS WHEN A PATIENT INTERACTS WITH A THERAPY DOG WHERE THEY FORGET WHAT MIGHT BE HURTING OR WHAT THEY THINK WILL HURT IF THEY START MOVING AND THEY START MOVING AND REALIZE IT DOESN'T HURT.
REPORTER: THE TREATMENTS TAKE A TOLL ON HER PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY.
SOT: SHE LOVES THE THERAPY DOG. I SEE THE LOOK ON HER FACE WHEN THEY KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND SHE REALIZES IT'S A THERAPY DOG. IT CHEERS HER UP.
REPORTER: THE DOGS HELP WITH PHYSICAL THERAPY.
SOT: THE NURSE IS TRYING TO GET THE PATIENT TO WALK AND IT DOESN'T GO SO WELL. THE THERAPY DOG COMES IN AND SAYS, HEY, LET'S TAKE THE DOG FOR A WALK.
REPORTER: WENDY SAYS TRAINING CAN TAKE UP TO A YEAR OR MORE. THERE ARE THREE ORGANIZATIONS NATIONWIDE THAT REGISTER A TRAINER AND THEIR DOG.
SOT: THEY ARE TESTED AND EVALUATED FOR YOUR HANDLING ABILITY OF THE DOG, THE DOG'S OBEDIENCE TO YOU AND YOUR COMMANDS, THE DOG'S ABILITY TO STAY WHILE THINGS ARE HAPPENING AROUND THEM. THEY ARE EVALUATED AROUND WHEELCHAIRS, WALKERS, LOUD NOISES, STRESSFUL SITUATIONS WHERE PEOPLE ARE RUNNING AROUND THEM.
REPORTER: SHE AND HER DOG LIKE QUINCY VISIT SCHOOLS FOR AUTISM AND HOSPITALS. AFTER THE LAST YEAR'S SHOOTING AT STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH, A GROUP OF THERAPY DOGS WERE TREATED ON THE WAY BACK.
SOT: THERE WERE MASS SHOOTINGS, USED AFTER 9-11, HURRICANES AND FLOODS, JUST TO GO IN AND PROVIDE PEOPLE WITH A MOMENT OF AFFECTION AND PEACE.
REPORTER: SHE SAYS IT'S HARD TO PINPOINT WHY DOGS ARE GOOD AT THERAPY, BUT WHATEVER THE REASON, IT'S UNDENIABLE.
SOT: MY FAVORITE PART OF WORKING WITH ANIMALS IS THEIR WILLINGNESS TO PLEASE FOR SO LITTLE IN RETURN, THAT THEIR NATURE IS SO TRUE AND GOOD AND THAT THEY KIND OF REMIND US EVERY DAY TO BE AS GOOD A PERSON AS THEY THINK WE ARE.
TED SIMONS: MARY LOU JENNINGS IS PART OF A RESEARCH TEAM AT P-C-H THAT'S STUDYING PATIENTS' BRAIN CHEMISTRY TO SEE WHY THESE PATIENTS APPEAR TO GET WELL FASTER AFTER VISITS WITH THERAPY DOGS. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANKS FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.
Therapy dogs visit patients in hospitals to boost moral, help with physical therapy and provide a medicine that doctors can’t.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital is one of many hospitals that offers Animal Assisted Therapy. The dogs will come in for the children to pet them, and the parents have agreed that it does wonders for their children.
“It’s been great for him,” says Tim Beal, whose son had a heart transplant. “It’s really boosted his spirits. It’s kind of been an uplifting moment for him. And we’re dog people, so when they come in, you can see him cheer up a little bit and definitely feel a little bit better.”
Keri Mosier’s daughter, a patient in the hospital, is another big fan of the therapy dogs. Her mother says her face lights up as she realizes the knock on the door means she’s getting a visit from a pup.
Program Coordinator for Animal Assisted Therapy Mary Lou Jennings says it’s not only beneficial for the patient, but for the whole family. Her son was in the hospital for a long amount of time so she says she understands some of what these parents are feeling. The dogs can be a crucial part to helping patient outcomes.
“There’s something that happens when a patient interacts with a therapy dog where they sort of forget about what might be hurting or what they think is going to hurt when they start moving,” Jennings says.
The dogs can also help with physical therapy on top of providing a moral boost. Many patients are discouraged to try walking again or testing the status of another physical disability, but the dogs are natural cheerleaders. They forget about the idea of whether or not they are able to do something, and they want to play with the dog.
Wendy Borst, a pet therapist, says it takes about a year to train the dogs and get them certified to be a therapy animal. They are evaluated for simple commands – and sometimes more advanced commands, depending on what they are being trained for. They are also tested to see how they interact with walkers, wheelchairs, loud noises and stressful situations.
The animals also provide help for those who may suffer from PTSD. Therapy dogs were waiting at the front of the school as Parkland students returned for their first day back since the shooting. They were there to comfort 9/11 survivors and those who experienced deadly storms.
“I think my favorite part of working with animals is their willingness to please for so little in return,” Borst says. “Their nature is so true and good, and they kind of remind us everyday to be as good of a person as they think we are.”