Doctors of the soul: Dogs visit hospitals, picking up the spirits of patients
by Rachel Gray
May 16, 2014 04:00 AM | 3950 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Austell resident Joyce Farmer seems to come to life from her hospital bed as Happy Tails Therapy dog Sophie jumps into her bed to say hello.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Austell resident Joyce Farmer seems to come to life from her hospital bed as Happy Tails Therapy dog Sophie jumps into her bed to say hello.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
slideshow
Happy Tails Therapy dog owners Tiffaney Barber, Kelly Barnes and Vicky Hagan walk the halls of Wellstar Cobb Hospital Thursday looking to brighten someone’s day with the attention of a pet.  Macy Marie, Sophie and Tucker jump into bed to say hello and are able to sooth some patients and excite others to get home to their own pets.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Happy Tails Therapy dog owners Tiffaney Barber, Kelly Barnes and Vicky Hagan walk the halls of Wellstar Cobb Hospital Thursday looking to brighten someone’s day with the attention of a pet. Macy Marie, Sophie and Tucker jump into bed to say hello and are able to sooth some patients and excite others to get home to their own pets.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
slideshow
Austell resident Joyce Farmer got some company Thursday in her hospital bed at WellStar Cobb Hospital when Macy Marie and Tucker paid her a visit from the Happy Tails pet therapy. <br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Austell resident Joyce Farmer got some company Thursday in her hospital bed at WellStar Cobb Hospital when Macy Marie and Tucker paid her a visit from the Happy Tails pet therapy.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
slideshow
Austell resident Carol Pauley enjoys some quiet time with Sophie a Golden Retriever belonging to Kelly Barnes on Thursday while recovering from a health problem at WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell. Barnes and Sophie are part of the Happy Tails Pet Therapy program, which offers visits to the hospital to improve patients spirits.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Austell resident Carol Pauley enjoys some quiet time with Sophie a Golden Retriever belonging to Kelly Barnes on Thursday while recovering from a health problem at WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell. Barnes and Sophie are part of the Happy Tails Pet Therapy program, which offers visits to the hospital to improve patients spirits.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
slideshow
AUSTELL — Nurses, patients and families are finding a visit from a trained fury friend to be not only an emotionally uplifting moment, but a great chance for some needed physical therapy.

Liz Peters, who has been an employee of the WellStar Health System since 2003, is WellStar’s stroke program coordinator. She has helped expand a pet therapy program started at the Kennestone Hosptial in Marietta to the WellStar Cobb Hospital off Austell Road.

Last fall, Lori Campbell, who manages the volunteer services department at the Cobb Hospital, started gathering a group of stroke therapy-certified dog owners to begin making rounds to specific floors and units in January.

The three therapy dog owners are from the nonprofit Happy Tails out of Roswell, whose list of volunteers tops 300 people from around the Atlanta area.

Tiffaney Barber of Marietta leads the team with her goldendoodle named Macy Marie, who looks like a teddy bear and wears hair bows and the occasional outfit.

Barber has been with Happy Tails for 15 years, and Macy Marie is her third dog to participate in the program.

Each week for about two hours, Barber is joined by Kelly Barnes of Acworth with her Golden Retriever, Sophie, a recent graduate of the training program, and Vicky Hagan of Marietta with her Irish terrier, Tucker.

Peters, who is a specialized neuroscience nurse helping patients with brain injuries or neurological diseases, said the age of seizer patients has become younger, ranging from 45 to 65 years old. She adds Georgia has a high rate of cases.

“We are in what is considered the ‘stroke belt,’” said Peters, who added besides factors such as diet and exercise, smoking increases a person’s chance for a stroke by 50 percent, she said.

The dogs provide comfort by lying their heads on the laps of patients, bringing a sense of peace. But Peters said the “alternative therapy” is also physically rehabilitating, encouraging patients to move their heads, arms and hands to see or touch their furry friends.

This is vital rehabilitation for a patient who may have lost mobility on an entire side of the body after a stroke, Peters said.

Barber said the activities designed by Happy Tails works a patient’s speech, balance and sight abilities. Brushing the dogs and even decorating their coats with clips and bows works a patient’s fine motor skills, she said.

There are exercises where patients toss toys or walk the dogs, which Barber said gets a patient to stand twice as long as they would through traditional physical therapy.

Dog lovers

Walking through the halls of Cobb Hospital on Thursday afternoon, staff and volunteers recount stories of families who were hesitant of the therapy at first, but then saw their loved ones open their eyes for the first time when a dog was placed in the bed.

While living in Canton, Peters saw horse therapy work with her own daughter, Kayla Jaconette, 16, who has a sensory integration disorder.

But with the therapy dogs, Peters said they can sense when a patient needs to move and be active versus when a patient needs pain eased and relaxation.

“The dog knows it,” Peters said. “I never expected that.”

Two stroke patients, who were admitted to Cobb Hospital earlier in the week, laid in bed Thursday afternoon hoping for the patter of little padded feet.

Carol Pauley of Austell, 58, said dogs have always seemed to be attracted to her, and she is guilty of spoiling many pets in her life.

“I know exactly the right spot,” Pauley said as she massaged Macy Marie’s thick, curly golden fur, while Peters reminded the patient to use her left hand. Without even seeming to notice, Pauley then used her left hand to entice her new friend with a dog treat.

Pauley said Happy Tails is a great program, especially for patients whose family members work and cannot be at the hospital for long hours.

“She is just a baby. She is precious,” Pauley said about Macy Marie. “I don’t see how anybody would have trouble getting to know her.”

As soon as the three dogs entered the room of Joyce Farmer of Austell, another stroke patient, she began patting the bed saying, “Come here, Tucker.”

Before the visits from the therapy dogs, Farmer, 66, was not able to sit up, but with the rush of excitement Thursday afternoon, she stayed upright, making sure each dog was given attention.

Farmer said she thought she had won a prize when the hospital staff said her room would be visited by the dogs, whom Farmer credits with bringing her back to life.

“It draws my mind when I have something to love,” Farmer said.

From the moment Farmer began petting the dogs, the hospital room filled with her laughter.

Hagan said it is the success stories and joyous laughter shared with patients that fills her spirit.

“They say volunteer jobs are not paying, but we are paid handsomely,” Hagan said.

Comments
(1)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Pee Wee
|
May 16, 2014
I was recovering from an operation back in 2012 when these therapy dogs came into my room. It was a real treat! Dogs seem to know what to do to cheer up sick people.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides