Compassionate Canine Provides Puppy Love at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare - St. Francis - Ascension Wisconsin

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Published on May 01, 2015

Compassionate Canine Provides Puppy Love at St. Francis

"Hey Buddy!" "Buddy's here!" "Look it's Buddy!"

Buddy, Therapy Dog at St. Francis HospitalBob Peterson is used to the attention Buddy gets every time he steps into Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare - St. Francis to visit patients and staff. "I know I'm just the guy with the leash and it doesn't bother me at all," says Peterson.

Buddy is a four-year-old, yellow lab and a pretty special, trained therapy dog. He started making weekly visits to St. Francis in January and is already well-known with a growing fan base. Buddy's here to brighten the day of patients, but he brings a smile to almost everyone who sees him.

"The people on this floor are quite sick and when they see Buddy their faces just light up. He brings cheer to all of us," says Ruth Ryshke, RN.

A therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals and retirement and nursing homes, and to people with learning difficulties or in stressful situations. Time with a therapy dog can provide:

  • Relief from feelings of isolation
  • An increased sense of well-being
  • An increased sense of self-esteem
  • Mood improvement and increased optimism
  • A dependable and predictable love, affection, and nonjudgmental companionship
  • Encouragement for social interactions

Mental Health Benefits

Buddy brings smiles to dozens of patients on several floors, but it might be when Buddy reaches the Mental Health and Addiction unit on the seventh floor that his impact is most felt. Lisa McInnes, occupational therapist, has seen firsthand how Buddy can get patients out of their rooms to interact with him.

Buddy, therapy dog at St. Francis hospital, visits with associate."Buddy is here to bring unconditional love regardless of age, language, literacy, or socioeconomic background. After a therapy session with Buddy, I've seen a reduction in stress, improved moods and better communication skills. You can see the tension just melt when patients are engaged petting or playing with him."

Therapy dogs are used to benefit patients suffering with emotional and behavioral disorders, depression, autism, substance abuse and dementia.

"Animals accept us as we are. They don't judge, so patients can interact with them safe in the knowledge that there is no hidden agenda. Buddy can make just about anyone smile, but when you’re hurting he'll also give you a hug and lick your tears," said Peterson.

Physical Benefits

Petting an animal is believed to cause the release of endorphins, which can have an extremely positive impact in patients dealing with depressive disorders. Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Pets offer something similar. There's something naturally soothing about petting a dog. Also, by focusing on the animal and its needs, the patients’ attention is drawn away from their own problems.

"Sometimes it’s just nice to have a distraction and a little break. Buddy introduces some fun into sessions which can be helpful,” said McInnes.

She adds research shows therapy dogs have a calming effect and can actually lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. For mental health and addiction patients, therapy dogs can help improve:

  • teamwork
  • communication
  • trust
  • self-expression

Emotional Benefits

Many patients find hospital stays lonely and stressful; they may be experiencing pain, poor sleep, and concern about their health in an unfamiliar environment, separated from friends and family, all of which can impact their well-being and recovery. A visit from a therapy dog like Buddy can help by providing a connection to the outside world. When Buddy walks into their room they know somebody cares.

Buddy, therapy dog at St. Francis hospital, has a name badge."It’s amazing to me how people open up when they see Buddy. I learn all kinds of things about people’s lives. I know Buddy is making a positive impact on patients who need a lift or someone to talk to. It’s very rewarding work," said Peterson.

Learn more about health care services at St. Francis, including mental health and addiction care

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Compassionate Canine Provides Puppy Love