Leonard Morse Hospital Celebrates Dog Therapy Appreciation Day

Apr 9, 2024

Pets Help Behavioral Health Patients

MetroWest Medical Center--Leonard Morse Hospital celebrates Dog Therapy Appreciation Day (April 11) to appreciate the dogs who comfort us by being therapy dogs. The behavioral health medicine hospital in Natick offers a Pet Therapy program for patients.

About Pet Therapy at Leonard Morse Hospital

Leonard Morse’s Pet Therapy program began in 2002 for the children’s unit. It became so popular helping the younger behavioral health patients that the program was expanded for adults.

At Leonard Morse Hospital, Occupational Therapists (OT) work in the behavioral health units with children, adults, and geriatric patients. Occupational Therapists run various group sessions to teach life and sensory skills for coping techniques. One of the group sessions includes Pet Therapy, where trained dogs join the groups. The practitioner teams meet with patients one-on-one for educational training such as anxiety management, sensory training, activities of daily living (ADL) training, among others. Therapists provide functional and cognitive assessments to help with discharge planning for these patients while collaborating as part of an interdisciplinary team that provides functional goals for patients. Our volunteer owners with their therapy-trained dogs visit on a weekly basis.

How Pet Therapy Helps

Prior to patients visiting with the dogs, staff posts a picture and short biography of the dog with information including breed, origin and favorite hobbies. Patients appreciate learning about the pets in advance of the group visit, as some patients may be hesitant at first.

Pet therapy allows the patients to engage in different social setting and to connect with a therapy-trained dog that helps calm patients and engage with petting or playing with the therapy dogs. The dogs also provide a sense of home, whether children are missing their own pets, or adult and geriatric patients reminiscing about a favorite animal.

Occupational Therapists lead the pet therapy group sessions to allow patients to engage in a different social setting which can help them to become more verbal with their feelings.

"Dogs are very comforting for our patients," said Kristie Bates, Leonard Morse Hospital Occupational Therapist. "They give unconditional love. Dogs don't frown at you. Some patients may be initially wary of the dogs. After watching fellow patients interact with the dogs in the group setting, many come around and start petting and playing too, watching their tricks and appreciate their calming behavior,” said Kristie. “To watch our patients open up and engage in more social settings while playing with the therapy dogs is wonderful to see.”

Below is a spotlight of Jack Jack, one of Leonard Morse’s Certified Pet Therapy Volunteer Dogs:

Name: Jack Jack
Breed: Coton de Tulear
Awards: Masters in AKC (American Kennel Club) jumpers at 8” level.
Activities: Agility training twice weekly. Local competitions. Jack Jack loves to run!
Organization: Therapy Dogs International

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