'Dog-ters' on call at some Southern California hospitals

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
'Dog-ters' on call at some Southern California hospitals
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Some of the most welcome visitors in the hospital are ones with four legs and a wagging tail.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Some of the most welcome visitors in the hospital are ones with four legs and a wagging tail. Now, one local hospital chain is expanding their pet therapy program so more canines can be "on-call."

Highly-trained animal therapy dogs Baylee, Benson and Tucker don't work for treats. Instead, their job is to "treat" patients, and the care they give is in high demand.

Severe asthma put 4-year-old Roslin Franco in the hospital, but the moment these canines came to call, her distress melted away.

Franco's mom, Jessica Salinas of Northridge said, "All night all she could talk about was how she wanted to see the dogs."

The Director of Volunteer Services at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Mary Grim, said, "They do approximately a hundred visits in the morning and a hundred visits in the afternoon."

Now medical puppy providers Baylee, Benson and Tucker are ready to cover new territory. "We're expanding our program based on the need," said Grim.

Starting this month, Dignity Health is rolling out their animal therapy program in all six of Southern California hospitals.

Dr. Nicholas Testa, Chief Physician Executive for Dignity Health Southern California, said, "They actually really create a home-life environment here in the hospital that is important for our patients and our families,"

New research offers clues into a dog's intuitive abilities to help. Neuroscientists discovered dogs learn far more from visual cues rather than verbal commands.

Researchers say dogs want to understand what people are saying so they're constantly scanning for facial expressions. This attribute makes them perfect pet therapists

"They are a bottomless resource of empathy," said Testa, "Dogs connect with people and they really are empathic. They feel you and they connect with you. And they emotionally make you feel better."

Another plus: those recovering from strokes or surgery are motivated to reach and walk more with their canine visitors.

"As soon as they pet the dog, the relief in their face is just phenomenal," volunteer handler Kristie Koenig said.

Every therapy dog goes through extensive training. Grooming and hygiene is a must, and while these pups are always on call, neither they nor their handlers get paid. The reward is in the work, Koenig said. "It feels so good to make people feel good."