Mila and LucyMy son needed some new fishing gear so I took him to our local Cabela’s store. We had our dogs with us in the back seat. I planned to leave them in the car while we ran in for 10 minutes to pick up a couple of items quickly. However, I saw another customer walk from her car right through the front door of the store with her dog, so I figured perhaps she knew something we didn’t.

My son, and our two flat coat retrievers, Mila and Lucy, headed into the store. I stopped at the greeter desk and learned that dogs are welcome. The greeter then leaned over and whispered to me that sometimes the dogs behave better than some customers.

We headed over to the fishing aisle with our dogs on the leash, noticing smiles from other shoppers (my dogs are pretty cute). Not only that, but Cabela’s staff members came over to pet the dogs, ask us what breed they were, and help us with our shopping. We were having such a good time in the store, we lingered longer than we had originally intended. (And I picked up a few more items based on impulse buying.)

When it was time to check out, we had two staff members fighting over us to come into their line so they could play with our dogs. It was probably the most memorable and fun shopping experience I have had in years.

Dogs and the new hospital experience…

Many hospitals have pet therapy for inpatients. Pet therapy teams consist of a trained animal (typically a dog, but could be a bunny, or miniature horse, or other critter) and a handler. They visit patients to help alleviate suffering by decreasing anxiety, offering comfort, distraction, and providing a feeling of well being. Pet therapy also has a physiologic impact by reducing heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels.

At our hospital–Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children–clinical teams made a plan to break outside of the typical pet therapy offering and experiment in some new areas. Nurses, doctors, phlebotomists and technicians welcomed dogs in multiple areas where you don’t typically find pet therapy teams.

We worked with our pet therapy partner, PAWS for People, who helped with the effort. Here is what we found:

  1. In the outpatient lab, the children helped walk the dog into the lab for blood work. The pet therapy team not only reduced anxiety for the child in the waiting room, but also facilitated the child entering the lab, and sitting on the table. We often had the child hold the dog on her lap during the blood draw so she could pet the dog while getting the needle. Parents reported that it was the first time they did not have to hold their child down or hear them cry during blood work.
  2. In the MRI suite, the dogs and their handlers distracted children during their IV placements and reduced anxiety associated with getting an MRI.
  3. In the pre-op area, dogs facilitated nervous children entering the pre-op rooms. The dogs then visited with anxious parents in the waiting room while their children were in surgery.
  4. In the rehabilitation gym, dogs encouraged children with disabilities to do their exercises and made rehab more fun.

Pet therapy has not won everyone over in healthcare. Some physicians—from allergy and infectious disease—have voiced concerns. However, our pet therapy teams use standard procedures to decrease the risk of a problem.

Our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only have the children and parents benefited, but our staff enjoys interacting with the dogs as well. Our young patients’ smiles have confirmed that our pet therapy teams are making the hospital experience less scary.

Paul Rosen, MD


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Paul Rosen

Paul Rosen

Pediatric Rheumatologist Paul Rosen, MD, is Clinical Director of Service and Operational Excellence at Nemours. He received a Masters of Public Health degree from Harvard University and a Masters of Medical Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Rosen’s interests include patient-physician communication, family-centered care, and the patient experience. He teaches medical students about improving the patient experience, and he serves as the faculty mentor for the physician executive leadership program for medical students at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Twitter @PaulRsn1


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