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Dogs are making hospital rounds

Therapy dog program brings benefits to UnityPoint patients

When the medical staff at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center has a particularly distraught child to care for, the doctors and nurses have a specialist they can call upon.

When she gets the call, Sarah comes into the patient’s room on all four legs. Her friendly and furry presence is often enough to calm the child. She can work her magic with adults, too.

Sarah is a 10-year-old beagle. She and her handler, retired nurse Linda Whaley, completed special training through Therapy Dog International. On Aug. 29, 2018, the duo became the first therapy dog team in the Fort Dodge hospital.

Since then, they have made about 1,200 patient visits.

They have recently been joined by nurse Nichole Fiekert and her Labrador retriever, Myles. That team has made about 100 patient visits.

While the therapy dog teams respond to specific requests for assistance, much of their time in the hospital is spent making rounds and visiting patients.

People and dogs seem to have a bond that defies definition, and that bond extends to health benefits. There is medical research which shows that interacting with a dog lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health and reduces anxiety.

Whaley recalled that a physician once told her ”What you and Sarah are doing for patients, we can’t prescribe in medicine.”

Whaley was interested in starting a therapy dog program, but waited until after she retired from a 40-year career so she would have time to train the dog.

She presented the concept to the hospital’s administration and medical staff and won their approval.

We thank her for bringing that innovative form of care to our local hospital. We thank the hospital’s administration and medical staff for having the foresight to approve of it.