Rush hour traffic. Work deadlines. An argument with a loved one. Seemingly never-ending student loans. These are just some of the stress triggers that can weigh us down on any given day. By the time we get home from work, sometimes we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Most of my own tension melts away as soon as I open my front door. Waiting to greet me, with a wagging tail and a slightly aggressive tongue, is my sweet Shih Tzu, Maddie.
She jumps off the couch, where she’s been staring at the door, then runs around in a circle at my feet. I bend down to her height and she leaps into my lap, showering me with kisses.
This is what’s known as literally feeling the love.
Multiple studies suggest the social support a pet provides can make a person feel more relaxed; decreasing anxiety more effectively than our human companions. In other words – it’s hard not to smile and laugh when your furry loved one makes it clear you’re their whole world.
Stress relief isn’t the only health benefit that comes from pet ownership. Other benefits include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower triglycerides
- Decreased loneliness
- Increased exercise
You don’t even have to own a pet to get some of these benefits. Just playing with or holding a dog or cat can bring a sense of calm. That’s why Methodist Mansfield and Methodist Richardson are utilizing pet therapy to help patients and their families. The trained dogs bring smiles and comfort during a stressful and sometimes frightening time.
Mansfield pet therapy program director Laura Sweatt, MSN, RN-BC, says in addition to lowering blood pressure and anxiety, the dogs create motivation that helps patients recover faster. “When the dogs come to patient floors, patients who have stayed in bed all day will get up and walk to their door, wanting to see or play with the dogs. Increasing mobility is huge for their recovery.”
Improving patients’ health is just one goal of the pet therapy program. Sweatt says the second goal is to raise the spirits of the clinicians and staff. I spent a fun morning in Mansfield following around some of the therapy dogs. As Choco the lab mix walked through halls and by nurses’ stations and break rooms, staff came from all directions to give him a hug.
“No matter how stressful or tiring my day, when I see one of the dogs, my eyes light up,” said Mandi Longoria, RN.
Lucy the Westie was appreciated as she walked by family waiting areas. Nearly everyone smiled and watched Lucy, and many stopped to get some snuggles.
Methodist Mansfield’s registered therapy dogs are with Paws with Partners, a local chapter of the nationwide group Pet Partners. Methodist’s Richardson’s dogs are from Heart of Texas Therapy Dogs. The dogs do have to pass a behavior test, where they follow basic commands like sit, stay, come or stay.
To ensure the dogs don’t get tired, they are only allowed to work a few hours at a time. That means more dogs are needed! If you think your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog and want to volunteer in Mansfield, email LauraSweatt@mhd.com. If you’d like to volunteer in Richardson, email JoniReed@mhd.com.
Maddie goes with me to lots of restaurant patios, parks and even shops with me. She’s always in somebody’s arms making them feel a little more cheery. I would love it if Maddie could make patients feel as calm and happy as she makes me. She actually knows her commands. But she may not be ready for a hospital. Because, you know, she does have that busy little tongue.
Stacy Covitz oversees the public relations team to ensure media coverage and handle media requests. She works with Methodist's leadership team and community directors to develop community relations plans that support the four hospitals that are part of Methodist Health System. Stacy also supervises print and digital internal and external publications, including Shine, the consumer health magazine. Away from work, you’ll likely see Stacy out with her dog, Maddie, or cheering for the Kansas City Royals.