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Paws with a cause: Animal assisted therapy program benefits inpatients at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital
Story Number is : 050817114
Women’s Faulkner Hospital

Pets bring great joy to a home. The same is true in the hospital setting. At Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, inpatients in the Psychiatry Department and on the sixth floor benefit from visits from certified therapy dogs. Through animal assisted therapy, patients’ social, emotional and cognitive functioning can be improved, and their day is simply brightened when they are greeted by a wet nose and wagging tail.

Through the Pets and People Foundation, BWFH now has three therapy dogs who volunteer to visit along with their owner/handlers. The Pets and People Foundation trains the owner/handlers and their animals to provide “people therapy through pets.” The foundation then pairs appropriate animals with institutions throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

Burton, a 150-pound Leonberger, first saw patients on 2 South, BWFH’s 24-bed psychiatric unit. He now visits 6 South, one of BWFH’s medical-surgical units. His owner/handler, Pamela Isaacson says Burton is perfectly suited to his role as a therapy dog. She describes him as a “moving teddy bear” and says, “He’s so sweet and he’s so very hypersensitive to people’s needs.” Burton himself also seems to understand the importance of his work. As soon as Isaacson puts the therapy dog vest on him, he seems to know it’s time to go to work.

On the opposite end of the size spectrum is Zoey, a pure-bred Corgi, who weighs just 30 pounds. Zoey and her owner/handler Carolyn Sheehan also volunteer on 6 South. “My daughter Megan waited a long time for a dog. She picked Zoey,” says Sheehan. “She said, ‘I love this dog so much, we have to share her!’ So she had her trained over the summer to be a therapy dog.” Sheehan now brings Zoey to BWFH and soon her daughter will begin volunteering as well. Sheehan says Zoey took to her new role quickly, simply sitting next to her patients and allowing them to pat her. In addition to bringing joy to the patients she sees, Zoey has been a benefit to the staff. “One day I came in and the staff was having a terrible day,” says Sheehan. “They wanted to see the dog!”

Phoebe, a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd Dog mix who visits both 2 South and 6 North, another medical-surgical unit which also houses the Addiction Recovery Program, lies somewhere in the middle at 68 pounds. She is also a rescue dog. Phoebe’s owner/handler Jen Brountas adopted her from Alabama as a puppy. At the time, she suffered from a broken tail and mange. Today, Phoebe is thriving. “She has a great soul. She’s an old soul. She’s just very sweet,” says Brountas. Brountas decided to train Phoebe as a therapy dog after her father had a stroke and she and Phoebe began visiting him in his rehabilitation center. “We went to the rehab center every day and she loved it! She would just lie down and let people pat her. So we decided to get her trained,” says Brountas. For Brountas, her work with the Pets and People Foundation is very fulfilling. “I’m in that phase of my life where I just want to give back and it’s something we can do together,” she says.

If you and your certified therapy dog are interested in volunteering at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, call 617-983-7424 or visit our website.

All visits from certified therapy dogs adhere to the stipulations laid out in BWFH’s policy regarding animal assisted therapy.

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