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Pets in the hospital: I’m keeping an open mind

Posted Jul 16 2013 4:12pm

I’m not an animal lover, so it’s difficult for me to relate to the idea that a pet is a real part of the family. But I’ve met enough people who genuinely feel this way, and read the statistics , so I accept it. I have also heard about therapy animals visiting sick children and adults.

Therefore it wasn’t a huge surprise to see a USA Today story about hospitals that are beginning to allow patients’ own pets to visit them in the hospital. There are some health, safety and noise concerns, but at least some places, like the pediatric hospital in Jacksonville are letting it happen. The kids, many suffering from cancer and with unpleasant prognoses, are enjoying it, at least anecdotally.

There is some research on the impact of dogs:

Unfamiliar dogs have an “energizing effect,” creating a memorable event and elevating the day’s excitement; familiar pets, on the other hand, provide a more calming and reassuring effect, said Emily Patterson, an animal welfare scientist of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“When a trained therapy dog visits, it’s like getting a strange person to perform music. It adds excitement to your day. When your dear pet visits, it’s like a friend is visiting you. It reconnects you with your community. You feel trusted and reassured,” Patterson said.

It seems like an interesting area of study, but I also wonder to what extent such research can be done objectively.


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