Home Diocesan News Mercy Medical Center’s Pet Patrol brings smiles, comfort, healing to patients
Mercy Medical Center’s Pet Patrol brings smiles, comfort, healing to patients Print E-mail
Written by Louise McNulty, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 14 July 2017 13:43

CANTON – To enhance or quicken the healing process for a patient at Mercy Medical Center, the health care team has a special resource they can draw on – the Mercy Pet Patrol.

Stephanie Williams, manager of Volunteer Services at the hospital, recently explained what this unique group is all about.

Introduced at Mercy in 1995, the patrol is made up of a dozen teams – each of which consists of a volunteer and his or her dog. Both the human and canine parts of a team go through an extensive process of training and testing before becoming members of the group.

Mercy’s web site gives assurance that “Pet Patrol teams are all registered with Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society) and are strictly behaviorally and medically tested by their evaluators.”

Some of the screening involves ascertaining the ability of an owner to control her or his dog in a variety of circumstances and the response of the dog to various environments and to patient reactions. Teams in training will shadow existing teams and will be accompanied by an evaluator on trial runs, before they make visits on their own.

Once part of the patrol, a team starts its work. Some of this may be doctor prescribed, but a lot of it is just drawing smiles and feelings of comfort from hospitalized patients and their families who wish to visit with the friendly animals.

A team, Williams says, “typically works once a week and no longer than one to one and a half hours. This is to allow owners to take care of the dog’s needs for food, water, etc.”

A Pet Patrol team’s visit can accomplish a great deal, Williams continues, because each doctor prescribing a visit may be doing it for different reasons.

“The physician is looking at the patient overall,” Williams says, “seeing if there is a need for socialization, for example, because [a visit] can relax a nervous or anxious patient. The program is designed to relax those who are visited, helping them to feel a connection or distract them” from a difficult situation.

Patients always have a choice of how they wish to interact, which might involve petting the animal or simply having the dog and its owner in the room.

Teams do not randomly wander hospital corridors between doctor-prescribed visits to patients in their rooms. Instead, a team on duty will make regular visits to the main hospital lobby, the emergency department, the regional rehabilitation center and the cancer center. Whenever the teams enter an area, Williams says, “the volunteers always check in with the clinical staff to ask if people would like a visit or if it’s a good time for a walk-through. The teams keep their visits short and sometimes will leave a picture of the visiting pet.”

Williams adds, “Many patients don’t like dogs, but find a visit will give them a laugh, or [they enjoy] a chat with the volunteer leading the dog.”

Of course a spontaneous smile or laugh witnessed by a volunteer is appreciated, but the worth of the program is often seen in the post-visit comments from patients and families.

The hospital’s Volunteer Services shared some recent feedback they received on a visit by Pet Patrol volunteer Lisa Carter and her dog, Riley.

They were contacted by a patient’s family, who said they wanted to formally say “thank you” because “in the midst of tears, [the team] brought such joy to the family.” Although the patient was unresponsive at the time of the visit, Carter said she had offered to visit with the family, who kidded that they wished the dog could somehow wake up their loved one. Carter said she understood and was grateful for the feedback.

In order to join the Mercy Pet Patrol, an owner and his or her dog must meet the following requirements:

1. The dog must be at least one-year-old and have a predictable, friendly temperament.

2. The owner must complete the Mercy volunteer application process.

3. The prospective volunteer must complete the Pet Partners online therapy animal handler course, pass a behavioral evaluation by a licensed Pet Partners evaluator and register with Pet Partners.

At Mercy, evaluations are done twice a year: In spring they are in either March or April; in the fall, they are in October.


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