Unique program allows patients' pets to visit them in hospital
Published Monday, November 23, 2015 10:00PM EST
Many hospitals and nursing homes have pet therapy programs that bring in specially trained animals to provide patients and residents comfort and a few smiles. But what if you could get your own beloved pet to visit you instead?
Juravinski Hospital, a small health-care facility in Hamilton, Ont., has launched a program that allows just that -- the first in Canada.
The program was launched by Donna Jenkins after her 25-year-old nephew, Zachary, begged her to let him see his dogs one last time before he died last fall of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Before he died, he made me promise that we would have an organization available that if any patient at Juravinski wanted to see their pet, they had that opportunity," she explained.
The result is Zachary's Paws For Healing.
Administrators at the hospital say they know people who really love their pets will often try to sneak them in during visiting hours.
"I've heard that still happens," says Kim Alvarado, the director of the oncology unit at Juravinski. "This is important to our patients, so we said: how do we make it happen in a safe way?"
Each pet who comes to visit must be cleaned first, in good health and well-tempered. The animals are also not allowed to have any contact with other patients, because of infection control rules.
So far, the hospital has allowed 25 pet visits to patients in intensive care, with the visits lasting about one hour each. Jenkins says the pets are often almost as happy as their owners for the visit.
"This is a pet that comes with unconditional love. No matter if you have lost your hair or you have tubes sticking out, they love you no matter what," she says.
The program runs on volunteers and donations but Jenkins hopes her program will be one that other hospitals can emulate.
Deb Buchowsky, who has aggressive leukemia, recently got a visit to her hospital bed from her beloved terrier, ShayShay. She thinks the program is a great idea.
"I think it's good medicine for people to have their animals come and visit them," she says.
Grace Campbell, who has liver cancer, was recently able to visit with her tabby cat, Cuddles, after more than seven weeks away from her.
"I feel very calm… so nice," she told CTV News while embracing her cat.
Studies show that contact with animals reduces blood pressure and stress. After just a few minutes together, both the patient and their pet seem to relax.
"We see it every day, every visit," says Jenkins. "It is magic. It is healing."
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip