Hospice of Southwest Georgia Offers Pet Therapy Program

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Hospice of Southwest Georgia Offers Pet Therapy Program

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It’s no secret that animals are special. We treat our pets as our children, providing them the same love, affection, care and attention that we give to those in our family. Animals feel our pain, our joy and our stress—this comes as no surprise to anyone who has a pet.

Animals allow people to focus, even if for a short period of time, on something other than themselves. Furry Friends— Hospice of Southwest Georgia’s dog therapy group—has helped bring love to many hospice patients since the program began just over a year ago.

Specially trained Hospice volunteers—which also happen to be dedicated pet owners—have completed special training with their dogs through the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Certification program. The dogs also completed Dog Therapy International testing and became certified therapy dogs.

Not to be confused with service dogs, therapy dogs help patients by simply visiting them. These special dogs have an ability to connect with and bring joy to all kinds of people, even those who are normally unresponsive or disconnected from their environments.

“Studies have shown that interaction with dogs can lower blood pressure, rehabilitate and promote relaxation, relieve agitation, anxiety and stress in patients, and even reduce the need for drug therapy in some cases,” said Lorie Hodges Garrett, physician/referral source liaison for Hospice of Southwest Georgia. “Hospice patients sometimes withdraw from those around them and talking with family and friends may become difficult or painful. Interacting with a friendly dog is easy, offers relief and often leaves patients and families with smiles on their faces.”

Researchers have confirmed and documented the effectiveness of dogs in hospice settings such as assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities and patient homes. “In addition to providing unconditional love while interacting with patients, therapy dogs have a beneficial influence on the social, physical and mental condition of patients,” said Leigh Ann Falconer, Hospice of Southwest Georgia pet therapy volunteer trainer and handler. “In addition, therapy dogs offer comfort and encourage activity in patients.”

Good therapy dogs are quick learners with loving, easy-going personalities and can stay calm in unusual or stressful situations. Still, pet therapy animals are not for everyone. As the Hospice of Southwest Georgia team gets to know the patient, they may recommend pet therapy as a treatment option for the patient and loved ones.

“We’re pleased when any of our patients can benefit from the presence of these loving animals in their lives,” said Garrett. “As soon as the dog walks through the door, you can see how it brightens the patient’s day.”

Hospice of Southwest Georgia will be holding pet therapy training classes for new volunteers and their pets this spring. An informational session will take place May 1 at the new Hospice of Southwest Georgia location in Bainbridge on Donalson Street at 5pm. Prospective volunteers from all neighboring counties are encouraged to attend.

Pet therapy classes will be held in Cairo on Tuesdays at 6:30pm, beginning May 7, for six consecutive weeks, and will be taught by Leigh Ann Falconer of Bark Busters. To enroll in the class or for more information on how you and your pet can participate in Furry Friends, call Debra Taylor, (229) 493-8912.