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If you were to walk through the halls of East Georgia Regional Medical Center on a typical day, you would expect to see doctors and nurses around every corner. Now, the hospital is going to the dogs – in a good way that is.
Volunteers and their dogs with the Statesboro Chapter (#215) of Therapy Dogs International began making visits to the hospital twice every week nearly three weeks ago. Linda Carlson, director of the chapter, said that the hospital was open to the idea when they first presented it a year ago.
“We had set up a meeting a year ago with Bob Bigley, a nursing supervisor and three other administrators and they actually were very excited about it,” Carlson said. “It really involved putting policies in place, finding out what other hospitals do, getting those policies established and then for all the handlers to actually go through the accreditation process.”
Carlson said that the dogs are there for emotional support.
“The purpose of Therapy Dogs International is to provide emotional support,” Carlson said. “I think we’ve seen that in a variety of ways. We’ve seen with adults, children and staff.”
East Georgia Regional’s CEO Bob Bigley said that the dogs have been a positive addition to the hospital, especially for the patients.
“The program offers such a benefit to our patients,” Bigley said. “Many studies have been done about how the dogs relax patients prior to procedures and ease their stress level.”
Kim Brown of Metter shares Bigley’s sentiments about the program. She was a patient at the hospital Tuesday when the dogs and their owners dropped in for a visit. She said that she had seen them walking through the halls and was excited for the visit.
“I saw them walking down the hall earlier today,” Brown said. “You want to peek out there and see them. I didn’t know I’d get to see them close, but it’s great.”
After the visit, Brown said that the dogs helped her relax after feeling anxiety and nervousness about being in the hospital for nearly an entire day already.
“I’ve been sitting here and waiting [for test results”,] Brown said. “It made time fly, for one thing and it made me relax.”
She added that the dogs simply brightened her day.
“It’s a very somber place and when they walk in, you feel better,” Brown said. “You feel like you’re home.”
Brown said she hopes handlers are able to bring the dogs to the hospital more often, especially for patients who don’t get many visitors.
“The dogs can do so much, especially for people who don’t have visitors,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine what that would be like because I’ve had family here with me. For people that don’t have visitors, that would have to be the best.”
Bigley said the program has been well received by staff members, too.
“An added benefit has been how much our staff enjoys seeing the dogs come in,” Bigley said.
Some of the volunteer dog owners, like Cheri Duffey, who has taken her dogs Tara and Sunny to various locations for five years, have been visiting nursing homes, hospice, schools and other locations for many years now.
“We have nursing homes that we really need to visit once a week,” Duffey said. “Sometimes, we’re lucky if we get there once a month.”
The reason the volunteers take their dogs to these locations is simple, according to Duffey, who also serves as the Statesboro chapter’s co-director.
“We do it to bring a smile to peoples’ faces,” Duffey said.
“I’ll tell you another thing that I think is really rewarding,” handler Mary Rottier said. “It’s something I get to do with my dog. I just enjoy that aspect of it and watching my dog work for me. That’s pretty awesome.”
Rottier added that in order for a dog to be a great therapy dog, it has to have a great temperament and be obedient. She said that obedience can be taught easily though.
Carlson said the group gets together outside of official visits, as well.
“We get together as a group, which is really neat,” Carlson said. “There’s a fun component to our group just getting together and having picnics and training sessions, just so the dogs are always used to each other.”
If you would like more information on how to become involved with the local Therapy Dog International chapter and learn more about required testing for the dogs, visit www.statesborotherapydogs.com