A little girl on the inpatient child and adolescent unit at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital felt very alone and afraid. Despite many efforts, the staff was having great difficulty getting her to interact with anyone. Then she received an unexpected visit from Terry Heun and her dog, Imagine.
Immediately upon seeing the dog, the little girl’s eyes lit up as she moved towards the dog and began to pet him. Sensing Imagine’s quiet, welcoming and non-judgmental energy, the little girl’s confidence grew as she reached for the dog’s leash and began to silently mouth his name. All who were watching witnessed first hand the healing power of the bond between humans and animals. This happened on the very first pet therapy visit held at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.
Over 3 years ago, Aurora Psychiatric Hospital implemented animal assisted therapy in the inpatient treatment programs.
Through a partnership with Pets Helping People, a local organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with special needs by conducting volunteer pet facilitated therapy, pet-handler teams were identified to launch a pilot program.
The program was an instant hit. It didn’t take long for everyone to witness the healing power of a wet nose and wagging tail. Within just six short months, the program had grown from three teams visiting one program one day a week, to six teams visiting all inpatient programs, children and adults. The success of the program is attributed to each and every volunteer handler-pet team. Each team brings their own sense of self and flavor to the program. Some teams do tricks, some play ball, some sit on the floor quietly and just talk.
Patients share a variety of feelings with the volunteer pet handlers. They express their gratitude for helping them forget about their pain. The dogs also help them feel relaxed and accepted. Other patients who have or had dogs are reminded of special memories when they meet the therapy dogs. And the dogs often help kids of all ages come out of their shells and fill them with joy.
While the dogs are certified pet therapy animals, so much of their skills come naturally. The dogs are not taught how to react to the patients – they instinctively know. The dogs just sense the needs of each patient. They can be a bundle of energy or calm and relaxed depending on the person.
Find out more about our Child and Adolescent Treatment Program.
For more information about animal assisted therapy, visit these websites:
- University of Missouri – Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction
- Delta Society
- Therapeutic benefits of pet therapy