A week had passed since Anna St. Jacques had been admitted to CVPH Medical Center, and she missed her cocker spaniels.
“I love dogs,” she said while sitting on her bed in the hospital, where she was receiving treatment for emphysema.
For that reason, St. Jacques was eager to get a visit from Jazz, a standard schnauzer that makes weekly stops at CVPH with his owner, Tina Hoffmann, to say hello to patients.
The pair are two of several volunteer participants in the hospital’s Pet Therapy Program, which was developed by the center’s Integrative Therapy Committee and works in conjunction with medical treatments.
“We just love to do it, and the patients love it, and the nurses and the doctors all enjoy the dogs, too,” said Hoffmann, chair of publicity/visibility for the Clinton County Canine Club.
She and Jazz began volunteering in the program about four years ago, after each receiving pet-therapy training and certification through the club.
In addition to completing basic obedience and handler/dog training, therapy pets are taught how to behave around medical equipment, children and other dogs.
“They go through a 10-step test, and they have to get all 10 correct,” Hoffmann said. “They can’t miss one to get certified.”
Human volunteers are also required to complete an orientation at CVPH.
Hoffmann visits the hospital twice a week, once with Jazz and then again with Jazz’s brother, Whiskey, who is also certified in pet therapy.
She estimates they visit about 35 patients a week between the two of them.
“It’s really fulfilling for the patient, I think,” Hoffmann said.
She, Jazz and Whiskey also visit area schools, where children exercise their literacy by reading to the dogs.
Of course, Hoffmann noted, Whiskey’s name is altered slightly in the school setting.
“The kids love to call him Whiskers,” she said.
In addition, Hoffmann and her canine friends make trips to SUNY Plattsburgh to see students.
“The college kids just love it,” she said. “They miss their dogs (because) they’re not home.
“And that’s what it’s all about — you miss your fur fix.”
Like the college students, some receiving inpatient care at the hospital must also part with their pets for an extended period of time, so visits from the therapy dogs serve as a gentle reminder of home, according to Foundation of CVPH Manager of Community Outreach Molly Ryan.
“It just kind of brightens their mood,” she said.
During their first session together, Jazz joined St. Jacques on her hospital bed and welcomed the woman’s attention.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said St. Jacques’s daughter, Princess Devlin, as she watched her mother interact with her new furry friend.
“It got her up out of bed (and) showered; it gave her something to look forward to.”
As for the length of the visits, Hoffmann usually leaves that up to the patients.
“I am on no time schedule,” she said. “If the patient wants one minute versus an hour, I’m flexible, and I think all the therapy-dog people are flexible.
“And we can usually tell when a patient is getting tired or if they’ve had enough.”
CVPH has 18 active pet-therapy volunteers, many of whom have multiple dogs that participate in the program, according to Ryan.
The sessions occur throughout the week, with volunteers coming at their own convenience and going from one hospital floor to the next, asking patients if they would like to visit with a canine companion.
“The program here was smaller when I started, but it grew quite a bit,” Hoffmann said.
In fact, CVPH is in need of more certified dog and human volunteers to match the growing popularity of pet therapy.
OPEN HOUSE TODAY
The hospital will host an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. today in its main lobby for people to learn more about the program.
The intent, Ryan noted, is to inform the local community of the program’s existence and benefits, as well as to educate people on how to participate.
Certified pet-therapy dogs and their humans, as well as members of the Canine Club, will answer questions and provide certification information.
The event is free and open to the public; however, people are asked not to bring dogs.
For more information, contact Molly Ryan at 562-7595.
Email Ashleigh Livingston: firstname.lastname@example.org