The ‘heeling’ touch
Program in need of volunteers to comfort, rehabilitate patients
Five-year-old Daniel Harding was not having a good week, but his face brightened up when a canine visitor stopped by his hospital room recently.
After a few minutes of petting Bijou — a small poodle with painted toenails and bows above her ears — a smile began to emerge from the little boy’s face. Daniel had been bedridden at The Memorial Hospital for days last week, but he was released Friday.
“This is his first time in the hospital,” the boy’s mother said amid a room filled with toys, a Spiderman balloon and cartoons playing on television. Still, the boy seemed listless until he starting petting the poodle, which immediately took a liking to him, too.
Bijou and her owner, Joann Quade, are a pet and owner combination making the rounds to people who are bed bound or who want some pet interaction. The program called Heeling Friends uses trained pets assisted by their owners to help rehabilitate patients in hospitals, nursing homes or others wanting the therapy.
“They’re finding out that the human/animal connection is really important,” said Shannan Koucherik, who is a trainer for the program. “Petting a trained animal can reduce the number of days a person is in a hospital.”
Craig’s program has two animal and human teams, but organizers would like to boost those numbers to about eight teams, Koucherik said.
To get involved, people should try to honestly determine whether their dog has basic manners.
“We’re looking for dogs that like to be petted,” Koucherik said. “We can’t use a dog that likes people but also likes to jump on people’s laps.”
There are a number of requirements that people and their animals need to do to become accepted into the program.
The first is attending a group social session with animals and owners. That session is required for trainers to determine an animal’s level of aggression and whether they get along with other animals and people.
People interested need to complete a questionnaire before attending the first session tentatively scheduled for early next month. A questionnaire can be obtained by calling and registering with Koucherik before May 20.
Ensuing tests include certification for an animal to become a Canine Good Citizen and a Delta Society Pet Partner — signifying animals that are suitable for therapy. Pet owners are encouraged to commit to the program for two years and should be able to make the rounds at local facilities twice a month. An animal needs to be bathed before each visit.
To Quade, work to get Bijou ready for the public is worth the effort.
“One woman just thought it was great that we come and visit,” she said. “It just kind of depends on the patient, whether they want to interact or not.”
Indeed, Bijou also regularly gets attention from hospital staff members, which helps them to de-stress, Quade said.
Beka Warren, sponsor of the Heeling Friends program for the hospital said that an animal’s presence could make all the difference in a patient’s day.
“They are very vital for patients that are having a bad day,” she said. “It gives them a break and it can bring them a lot of healing.”
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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