Furry family members allowed during visiting hours at Hamilton hospital

Nov 24, 2015 | Biz/Tech

Therapy pets can help lower blood pressure and calm patients

Therapy pets can help lower blood pressure and calm patients (Wikimedia Commons)

By Christina McAllister

Pet therapy programs are commonplace in both hospitals and retirement homes, but the process to bring in a family pet can be expensive and time-consuming.

Juravinski Hospital, a health-care facility in Hamilton, has partnered up with Zachary’s Paws for Healing to help reunite family pets with their owners, for free.

Zachary’s founder Donna Jenkins told Humber News on Tuesday that the program is the first of its kind in Canada.

The program is Jenkins’ way of honoring a promise made to her 25-year-old nephew, Zachary, who died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014.

“He realized he was a kind of a favourite patient. His concern was that other patients wouldn’t have the same opportunity he had… he felt it was a program that needed to be done hospital wide,” said Jenkins.

With the help of nurses, doctors and administration at Juravinski Hospital, Zachary’s final wish is now a reality.

The process has not changed, said Jenkins. The same protocol and policy are in place.

“It does not bypass the rules already established in hospitals, it works strictly within the hospital’s policy and procedures regarding pet visits. We take the onus of all the paper work and getting all the approvals for the visits. By doing this, it improves the process,” she said.

Jenkins stressed that the program would not be possible without the partnership established between her group and the staff at Juravinski Hospital.

Vel Snoukphonh, a public relations and communications specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences, is one of the partners at Juravinski Hospital who helps make this program a success.

The patient experience is so important but often times nurses and frontline staff are busy with patient care and clinical activities that these types of requests can be delayed, Snoukphonh said.

The volunteers at Zachary’s foundation expedite the process and take care of the laborious paperwork, she said.

The results of the program are tremendous, said Snoukphonh.

“You can really see the reaction of the patients, when they’re reunited with their fur baby… people really consider [their pets] members of the family. You really see how happy they are and it helps them forget sometimes what they’re experiencing at the moment,” she said.

The benefits are one of the reasons this program is thriving and the reason pet therapy is expanding rapidly, she said.

Colomba Lamanna, volunteer and team leader for Therapeutic Paws of Canada, said there is research and science that show having a pet around benefits patients psychologically and physiologically.

Some of these benefits include lowered blood pressure and a sense of calm, said Lamanna whose group connects volunteers and therapy dogs with institutions such as retirement homes where people need companionship.

Animals just “light up” someone’s day, she said.

“They give them a positive distraction…The benefits [are] becoming more clearly established and the demand as well is increasing dramatically,” said Lamanna.

As for Jenkins and her partners at Juravinski Hospital, they are hoping to expand to other sites.