Aug 26, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Leah Saycich


Being National Dog Day, what better time to recognize the importance therapy dogs and other animals can have with a patient’s recovery? Our patients here at University of Utah Hospital have been helped and continue to be helped by Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA).

There are two different programs in which the therapy animals participate. The first is Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), which involves visits to patient rooms by animals and their handlers. Melissa Byrd, ITA Administrative Services, tells us those visits are one on one and usually last about five to fifteen minutes – just enough for the pick me up the patient needs. “It’s nice to see someone who is there just to say ‘hello,’” says Byrd.

For some patients, the animals are also used to help in physical and emotional therapy through the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program. A physical therapist may ask a person to play fetch with a dog instead of repeatedly moving an arm with a machine. With emotional therapy the therapist will sometimes ask a person simply to talk to the animal because people will often tell animals things they won’t tell their therapist.

“In both cases there is an emotional thing that’s happening between the animal and person. Part of it is that dogs and other animals are non-judgmental, the animal is just there and thinks you’re wonderful no matter how you look and if you can’t talk they don’t care, they’ll try to communicate with you however they can,” says Byrd. There are also physical benefits. Byrd tells us that petting a dog or cat could lower blood pressure and allow for muscle relaxation. The patients who benefit the most from the therapy animals are usually those who like animals in the first place, although sometimes patients who don’t normally like animals can be surprising and find comfort in the creatures.

We are glad to have ITA working in our facilities. Currently they visit various patient throughout University of Utah Hospital including those in our Burn Center. The animals are also very helpful and welcomed at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute.

You can watch amazing video stories of the teams at work here: http://www.therapyanimals.org/Videos.html.


Leah Saycich

Leah is an intern with University of Utah Health

therapy animals

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