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Sharp Health News

Pet therapy, a special type of medicine

Nov. 12, 2018

Pet therapy

Some of Linda Van Fulpen’s favorite co-workers know just how to treat the people of Sharp Grossmont Hospital

Whether they’re greeting patients and their families or doctors and staff, these special Sharp team members have excellent bedside manner and exhibit The Sharp Experience with every interaction.

They also walk on four legs, love a good belly scratch and have names like Copper, Milagra, Brutus and Bentley. They are just a few of the Sharp team members who make up the pet therapy program.

Sharp’s pet therapy program includes a variety of dogs that are popular additions to Sharp's patient-centered programs.

Pets enrolled in the program and their handlers visit Sharp’s long-term care, acute care, behavioral health services and hospice facilities to help reduce stress and give patients, visitors and staff the opportunity to take a break from illness and injury.

All dogs are tested and certified to ensure that they have a temperament suitable to being a therapy dog, are well-groomed and up to date on all vaccinations and can follow commands without becoming distracted by the noises and activity of a hospital environment. Each pet even wears an official Sharp team member badge just like their human co-workers.

“A simple visit can do wonders,” says Van Fulpen, volunteer services manager at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, host to Sharp’s largest pet therapy program with 22 dogs. “Everyone gets a fix of doggy love, and illness can be forgotten for a moment. They make everybody feel better — doctors, staff, patients and visitors alike.”

Connecting with patients in a powerful way

Copper is a 7-year-old Bernese mountain dog who visits Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center with his owner, Sharon Ussery. He is known for his sweet nature and goofball tendencies, and can light up a room with his 100 pounds of personality. Copper is a part of the South Bay hospital's pet therapy team, which consists of five dogs and includes a Chiweenie named Max, a Shih Tzu named Tazer, a golden retriever named Leo, and a Tibetan terrier named Bentley.

“Patients have told me that our visit meant everything to them, even helped them heal,” says Ussery. “We have a great time during our visits. We’ve met so many wonderful people and the experience is unlike anything. Plus, you’d think Copper was a movie star with all the attention he gets!”

Bentley can sit or lie next to a patient in bed when invited because he is smaller than most other therapy dogs. His calm demeanor makes him a perfect fit for the program.

“Bentley was invited into the room of a patient who was at life’s end,” remembers his owner, Barbara Pichardo. “After Bentley visited everyone in the room, tail wagging, a family member asked if the patient could touch him. I placed Bentley in his lap and he then placed Bentley’s paw in the patient’s hand and both were quiet and peaceful. Bentley seemed to connect to her in a very powerful way.”

The pet therapy program is just one of many Sharp HealthCare patient-centered care programs, which include music, arts, baking and massage therapy. 

Three of Sharp's acute-care hospitals have been designated as Patient-Centered Hospitals by the international patient advocacy group Planetree, Inc. The coveted designation signifies a hospital's excellence in providing treatment that extends well beyond caring for a patient's ailments and aiming to heal the person as whole.

Learn more about Sharp's patient-centered care.

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