HOWLAND - Many patients who have to stay in the hospital for long periods of time miss their pets.
Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital helps by letting that ''special family member'' stop by for visits, as well as arranging for patients to visit with several certified therapy dogs who visit the hospital each week.
Colleen Connolly, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at Hillside Hospital, said the dogs provide a different type of therapy that provides comfort and relaxation to the patient.
''Whether they have a visit from their own dog or cat or from one of the therapy dogs, it is like having a little reminder of their home,'' Connolly said.
Since 1995, Hillside has allowed people to visit with their own pets in the hospital under pre-arrangements with the therapists for a meet-and-greet time. In 2000, the certified pet therapy dogs through Therapy Dogs Inc. began coming to the hospital.
The therapy dogs sometimes attend physical therapy sessions to assist in some way with the therapy of a patient, while at other times they simply sit at the bedside of a patient. Others have sat in offices while a patient is being consulted.
Pets can help people to:
v Reduce stress
v Retain a sense of humor
v Reduce the effects of loneliness
v Maintain a schedule
v Adjust better to change
v Improve the adjustment of a family member or caregiver of a person with an illness
v Deal more effectively with pain or stress
v Socialize and be more responsive to and communicate better with others
v Learn empathy skills
Research has shown that spending time with a pet can:
v Reduce blood pressure
v Normalize heart rate
v Improve circulation
v Help people to stay active
v Help promote independence and well-being
- Source: Delta Society
''Pets can make a difference to the patients,'' Connolly said, adding that people often have such a bond with their pets that even if they see another dog or cat, it can remind them of home.
''A lot of people view their pets as a member of the family, or for some they may be the only family they have. Having the pet come in helps reduce loneliness,'' she said.
Patients are first asked if they would like a visit from one of the therapy dogs.
''Sometimes we get a special request from a therapist to maybe have someone brush a dog in order to make use of a hand that may have been impaired from a stroke. I do get requests from staff to visit certain patients,'' Connolly said.
Research has shown the pets help people retain a sense of humor, reduce the effects of loneliness and help adjust to change. Controlling the stress of loneliness is a step toward preventing illness and in aiding recovery, according to Delta Society Pet Partners, which prepares pets for visits to hospitals.
Sue Belebczuk of Newton Falls bring her papillon, Jayzee, to the hospital. She said she heard about the therapy dog program at Hillside when her mother was a patient there and saw a dog come into the hospital to visit with patients.
''He is very energetic dog and loves everyone,'' she said.
When Jayzee walks into the room to see the patients, their faces light up, Belebczuk said. Jayzee is known for doing tricks such as shaking hands.
''I have heard so many dog stories. The patients really open up and share stories of their own dogs,'' Belebczuk said.
Herbert Haines of Warren, who was receiving physical therapy at Hillside, said he finds the visits from the dog encouraging and relaxing as they sit and watch as he receives his treatment.
Shirley Eisenhuth of Champion, who was also receiving physical therapy, said, ''You forget that you are hurting when you get to see them and watch the fun things they do. The dogs get your mind off your pain and problems.''
Beverly Horton of Southington brings Queenie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel certified under Therapy Dogs Inc.
''The dogs bring so much joy to people who see her,'' Horton said.
Dr. Cynthia DiMauro, medical director at the hospital, said she has seen how the dogs calm patients down. She herself will interact with the dogs when visiting patients.
''Some miss their pets, so seeing these dogs makes them feel better,'' DiMauro said.
She said the therapy dogs have been well-trained.
''For the patients who really like animals, they will go right up to the dogs. Many patients like to see something other than a human,'' DiMauro said.
Diane Sharnek, a licensed counselor in the hospital's psychology department, brings her own dog, Kirbey, an Italian greyhound who will sit in her office while she speaks to a patient as part of the inpatient services.
''The dog helps create a sense of being at home while also offering pain control and relaxation. People do miss their pets when they have to stay here,'' Sharnek said.
Other therapy dogs include Conner, a whippet owned by Sue Zimmerman, and Buck, a Doberman owned by Bob Bradfore. Another dog, Jack, a Doberman, was part of the program until his death.