PET Program Celebrates Three Years of Success

Mary Greeley Medical Center is taking patient care to the next level by providing patients with a therapeutic alternative from their problems and a little bit of normalcy in an often-stressful environment.

The Pet Enhanced Treatment (PET) program, which works with patients in the departments of Acute Rehabilitation, Skilled Care, Behavioral Health and Hospice, has been in place at Mary Greeley Medical Center since 2007. The program, which celebrated its third anniversary in February, provides a unique approach to aiding patients through the healing process.

Susan Trevillyan, C.T.R.S., M.P.A., who has been a therapist for 6 years, says she feels that pet therapy is a very effective treatment because humans tend to bond with animals and the dogs provide unconditional love. Studies have shown that interactions with animals, especially touch, can lower blood pressure and enhance a positive attitude. 

Jeffrey Johnson and Evita"Just to have the dog get up on the bed and cuddle-I know they say ‘pet therapy'- but it was completely therapeutic," says Jeffery Johnson, ISU Alumni Association President, C.E.O. and Publisher, after experiencing the program in late September. "It just made me completely forget how long I'd been there and what I was there for."

Johnson had been in the hospital for two weeks and when the door opened, it was usually an employee or a family member entering, so seeing an animal was a welcomed surprise.

"It was kind of like Christmas," he says. "They knocked and in walked this friendly, incredible golden retriever-there was just no better medicine for me at that time."

Marty Colony and her dog Lily, a sheltie, have been volunteering with PET for more than two years.

"Lily knows what pet therapy is," Colony says. "In the morning I show her special PET collar to her and touch her nose to her little volunteer tag that says ‘I am a therapy dog.' She knows where she is going when she sees that."

Colony says she wanted to get involved in the program because she thought Lily could do it and it would be a good way to give back to the community.

"The people just beam-even the people who don't love pets end up liking her if she sits in the chair next to them," Colony says.

While there isn't one specific breed that makes the best therapy dog, each dog must pass a meticulous training program and receive certification through Therapy Dogs International (TDI) to be involved with the program.

Currently, there are 10 dogs in the program at Mary Greeley Medical Center, ranging from boxers to shelties to golden retrievers. The dogs must be at least one year old to try out for the program, but most of the dogs involved in the program are between four and eight years old.

Colony says she was pleased and surprised that Lily was accepted into the program because she had to pass a series of tests, such as walking around people with crutches and following commands that she hadn't been previously exposed to.

Linda Tolle, an R.N. in the Skilled Nursing Unit and Acute Rehabilitation Center, says she has been surprised by the program because even some patients who don't seem interested initially, end up interacting with therapy dogs and smiling upon petting them.

"I took care of a lady the other night and she was not really responsive to anything, and then they showed me pictures of her with the dog and she really perked up," Tolle says. "You could see it in her eyes and her smile. They just curled up and snuggled. Whatever the patient wants, they seem to sense it."