Leonard Morse Hospital Celebrates Pet Therapy DayApr 28, 2023
Pets Help Behavioral Health Patients
NATICK, Mass. – MetroWest Medical Center at Leonard Morse Hospital celebrates Pet Therapy Day (April 30). The behavioral health medicine hospital in Natick has re-engaged the 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, too.
At Leonard Morse Hospital our 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.
The therapy program now includes pets from three volunteer groups: Therapy Dogs, Caring Canines and Dog Bones. 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.”
Pediatric and Geriatric Occupational Therapist at Leonard Morse Hospital Edeline Kauvil explains her pet therapy sessions. “We have multiple dogs that visit the units either on a weekly or monthly basis. The experiences with these pets and their owners have been wonderful and mutually beneficial. I remember a patient that was on our unit for approximately 6 months and the patient never took part in group therapy or engage with staff. Once he saw our therapy dog, his eyes lit up and he was able to open-up. We also have a child that is deaf but when the dogs come in, the patient quickly gravitates toward the dog and it a source of comfort. From my 6 years' experience with Pet Therapy, I have noticed how the program has given some pet owners more purpose as they help others to heal.”
Some of Leonard Morse’s Certified Pet Therapy Volunteer Dogs include:
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
Breed: Burnedoodle (Mix of Burnese Mountain Dog and Poodle)
Activities: She loves to train!
Organizations: Caring Canines and Pets & People