Pets bring smiles to patients |

Pets bring smiles to patients

Carolyn Pope
Carolyn Pope/Vail DailySally Clair, Blondie Vucich and Laine Coffey, along with Murphy, Kokomo and Maggie.

VAIL – One big, loving lick at a time.That’s what “Pet Partners” is all about – bringing in trained dogs to brighten a hospital patient’s day.

Delta Society has stringent requirement for its affiliates, but benefits include extensive training and coverage by Delta Society’s insurance policy. Funding is the responsibility of each dog’s human partner. The training for the dog and its handler include 12 hours of class and an exam. Both the dog and handler are evaluated, even tested in mock situations with a “patient” – including those in wheelchairs. In one mock exercise, the dog’s reaction is evaluated when someone drops a bedpan.

Patients will be visited by a specially trained dog and its handler when they are requested and available. The visits last from five to 20 minutes, depending upon the patient. Interaction with animals has proven to be a positive experience for the majority of hospital patients. It can be as subtle as returning a smile to a sad face or as dramatic as lowering blood pressure.”The doctors themselves write the policies on how the dogs are used,” said Clair, who works with Kokomo. “They have all the records on the dogs.”This isn’t anything new, Clair said. Hospitals nationwide that use dogs for therapy include Massachusetts General, Sloan Kettering in New York City and the Mayo Clinic. In Colorado, dogs are used at Swedish Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Presbyterian and Rose hospitals in Denver as well as in Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs.”So much of the hospital experience that involves touching is intrusive, like taking blood and I.V.’s,” Clair said. “When I bring an animal in, you don’t even need to have any conversation. It’s unconditional love.”Laine Coffey, Blondie Vucich and Sally Clair are three ladies with mission, and, with 12 other legs involved, it’s hard to say no. Those legs belong to three furry sweethearts: Maggie, Kokomo and Murphy, owned by Norma Broten. “I think the change in the demeanor of the patient is amazing,” said Vucich, who was director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society for 10 years and is a long-standing animal advocate. “These dogs create relaxation, smiles and joy.”Coffey has spent 20 years of volunteering with hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. She was on the Vail Valley Medical Center’s Ethics Resource Committee, is a trained volunteer with Mountain Hospice, a volunteer coordinator for the Angel Program, and helped created the medical center’s Volunteer Corps’ Neiman Marcus Fashion Show. The ladies and the dogs have gone through extensive training and are affiliated with the Delta Society, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the study of human-animal interactions.”It’s our dream to bring the healing touch of animals into the Vail Valley Medical Center,” reads the group’s mission statement. “We believe the human-animal bond will have a profound effect upon the patient experience as well as family, staff and visitors.”Vail, Colorado

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