The Eskenazi Health Pet Therapy program is comprised of 13 therapy dogs that are specially trained to provide affection and comfort to the patients, visitors and staff at Eskenazi Health. In addition to hospitals, therapy dogs may work in retirement homes, nursing homes, disaster areas, schools, or as a part of a hospice program. Therapy dogs not only provide affection and comfort, they have also proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate; reduce stress, pain, anxiety and loneliness; and provide mental stimulation and human socialization.
I am amazed every time I open the door to enter a patient room with one of our therapy dogs at how big of a smile immediately spreads across the patient’s face,” said Shelly Fisher, Pet Therapy coordinator at Eskenazi Health. “I love being a part of that and being able to see people light up, regardless of what brought them to the hospital in the first place.
Eskenazi Health patients and staff may request a visit from a therapy dog any time a dog is on the main Eskenazi Health campus or at an Eskenazi Health Center site.
A common question asked by those who interact with our therapy dogs is, “How can I train my dog to become a certified therapy dog?
Prior to entering your dog into a program to become a certified therapy dog, you must evaluate your pet thoroughly. A preliminary evaluation is just that – asking simple question to determine if they’d be a good fit. Does your dog enjoy being around people and is he or she even-tempered? An owner must also consider the overall health of the dog in question. Are the dog’s vaccinations current? Do they have a healthy coat? Are you willing to subject your dog to frequent trips to the vet for regular check-ups?
The degree of obedience each dog possesses will play a huge role in whether or not they are fit to become a certified therapy dog. Simple cues such as responding to their name when called in a quiet, calm voice, and being able to greet a stranger while maintaining a “sit” rather than jumping up and down are clear indicators. Lastly, what types of social skills does your dog possess? Is he or she tolerant of loud voices or clumsy, sometimes aggressive, petting? Does your dog recover well after startling situations?
After assessing your dog, if you feel that he or she would be successful as a certified therapy dog, contact a therapy dog certification organization in your area to enroll. In addition to the completion of a certified therapy program, dogs in the Eskenazi Health Pet Therapy program must be at least 1 year old and receive the required vaccinations and parasite testing. Up-to-date health records and vaccinations include:
- DA2PP (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvovirus), Leptospirosis, Bordetella and Rabies
- Fecal testing every 6 months to 1 year
- Heartworm prevention
- Flea prevention
Volunteers or owners of therapy dogs must meet the following requirements in order to participate in the program:
- Be at least 18 years of age or older, unless enrolled in the Eskenazi Health VolunTEEN program
- Agree to volunteer for one three-hour shift per week for at least three months
- Interview with the Eskenazi Health Volunteer Services manager
- Pass a criminal background check
- Provide proof of immunization for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and immunization or immunity for chickenpox (varicella)
- Receive an annual tuberculosis (TB) screening
- Receive an annual flu vaccination
- Complete the online application and orientation process
- Complete any additional training that may be required
In addition, all therapy-certified dogs must be certified with the person that will be volunteering. It is in best practice to have basic training prior to therapy certification. For more information, please contact Eskenazi Health Pet Therapy at 317.880.8595.