Updated: Sep 14
Therapy animals have been essential in providing comfort and assistance to people for quite some time, but their undying devotion and trusted companionship has never been more critical than right now. While most people are aware of the positive impact animal therapy can have on someone, many do not realize the work of pet therapy extends far beyond the scope of a private home. During the Coronavirus pandemic Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) organizations have been shifting their efforts towards hospitals and providing healthcare workers and hospital patients with the comfort of a furry friend. With the tremendous amount of pressure the pandemic has put on hospitals, healthcare workers and hospital patients need a four legged companion now more than ever. Luckily, even under these difficult circumstances, pet therapy organizations have been working extra hard to continue to provide patients and clients with their favorite pooches during this difficult time because now is when people need some canine lovin’ the most.
During Coronavirus, Pet therapy animals have been lending a comforting paw to the front line healthcare workers and providing them with stress relief in the form of nuzzles. Hospitals have been adjusting their pet therapy programs to be able to continue to provide patients and staff some puppy love, while under coronavirus safety guidelines . Wynn, an assistance dog at Canine Companions for Independence, went viral after stories came out about her courageous efforts in supporting the COVID-19 emergency responders at Rose Medical Center. The one year old yellow Labrador patiently waits in her designated “office”/des-stress room as returning medical staff take a much needed mental health break where she can provide them with some comforting licks and cuddles. The hospital in Denver turned an employee office into a relaxation sanctuary or what they have been calling “Wynn’s office” which is equipped with dim lights, soothing music, and the comfort of a friendly pup. Although the CDC and the WHO say pets are not at risk of spreading COVID-19, to ensure the safety of Wynn, ahead of the meeting staffers must thoroughly wash their hands and have on the proper safety equipment.
As Canine Companions for Independence and Rose Medical have taken the proper precautions in preceding with Wynn’s in-person therapy sessions, other organizations working with hospitals have taken different approaches in adapting their pet therapy programs to follow the regulations of COVID-19. The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’, has moved their Pet Therapy Program online and have been offering their young patients virtual appointments with the dogs via Webex conference calls. The pet therapy program at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) has become a pillar of the community and when COVID-19 threatened to shut it down, CHLA made it their mission to be able to continue. Their patients can now continue to play with their favorite four legged friends while socially distanced on iPads or computer screens. CHLA’s hard work has paid off and currently, have already over 60 dogs ready and eager to participate in the program and connect with the children virtually.
Whether it’s a Pet Therapy organization working with hospitals, other healthcare facilities, schools, or personal/at-home assistance, like Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, many other organizations have been moving their efforts online so they can safely continue tending to their patients needs through the pandemic. The Pet Partners Organization, which has been training and helping animal therapy volunteers deliver animal-assisted interventions for over 40 years, has been working with their handlers to provide their clients with the option of virtual Facetime sessions. Pet Partners created a facebook group where they have been hosting live chats with their pets and encouraging group members to take part in the Animal-Related Engagement on their facebook page and on other social media platforms. Animal-Related Engagement (ARE) activities are those that garner the same feeling of connecting to an animal without an animal having to be there, ARE activities might include watching videos of animals, looking at photos, crafting, puzzling, or even playing with stuffed animals. Building a connection with an animal is one of the most beneficial things a person can do for their health.
During tense and unpredictable times, the unconditional love of a doting K-9 can mean all of the difference. Which is why during the pandemic, one of the most stressful times, these devoted pooches are doing everything they can to continue to give us their love and support our communities. Whether it’s lending a paw to first responders in hospitals, like Wynn, or simply, brightening someone’s day after seeing a big smiling puppy on their screen, pet therapy programs have extended the length of their leashes and continue to guide us even while socially distanced. So even with coronavirus making our lives a bit crazy, at least we know we will always have our fluffy four legged friends by our side.