Animal Assisted Therapy: Patient Care Courtesy of Canines


Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, and for good reason. The furry friends have a way of turning a frown upside down faster than you can say, “Go fetch!” They have an innate ability to warm the heart, so it only makes sense that these canine companions be incorporated into our healing processes.

Through the Animal Assisted Therapy Program (ATT) at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, we’ve added some canine counterparts to our trauma department.

Every Friday morning, a dog gets a chance to play doctor as they make rounds on trauma and critical care patients in the Trauma Surgical Unit at Baylor Dallas. Patients who are candidates for pet therapy, and who give their consent for a visit, get to have a quick snuggle or petting session with one of the charming and highly-trained therapy dogs to start their day off on the right paw.

On Fridays, visits from a winsome tail-wagger like Eli, Jinx, Quinn or Jake are just what the doctor ordered!

image[4]Depending upon the comfort level of the patient, these dogs will sit calmly by the bedside or snuggle up on the bed with the patients. The dogs have also been trained to perform impressive tricks, like giving high-fives and dancing. Just remember that when it comes to tricks, treats are greatly appreciated (and provided for by the friendly pet owners and staff) if the patients want to give them a small reward.


Of course, a pat on the head or a smile aimed their way is just as rewarding and welcome.

These darling therapy dogs are quickly becoming a big hit with patients. “Patients have welcomed the pets into their rooms and have been excited to visit with them. Our staff adores all the dogs that have come to visit. Not a person walks by without wanting to stop and pet the animals,” says Heather Densmore, clinical manager of the trauma surgical unit and IV team.

As Heather points out, the staff enjoys these visits from the precious pooches just as much as the patients. The pups’ calming and stress-reducing effect on the whole floor brings a wave of positivity and happiness to be enjoyed by patients, staff and visitors alike.

The benefits of these therapy animals aren’t just imagined. Considerable research and numerous testimonials suggest animal therapy can provide legitimate benefits in reducing stress, anxiety and blood pressure. Animal therapy has also been linked to decreasing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Kelly and Quinn[3]

Often, animals are the first thing patients with head trauma react to, and they can sometimes be the motivating factor for patients attempting difficult and exhausting tasks like speaking or walking.

In fact, therapy dogs were used in the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon and Sandy Hook tragedy.

Even family members are reaping the benefits these new visitors provide. It is a very stressful time for family members with loved ones in the hospital. They may spend anywhere from days to several weeks in the hospital, and these dogs have the ability to relieve some of that stress by putting a smile on their face and bringing them a little dose of cheer in an otherwise trying time.

“They really look forward to the weekly canine visits to relieve some stress,” says Nakia Rapier, the project director of the trauma department at Baylor Dallas.

With the introduction of the animal therapy program, the Baylor Trauma Department is looking to enhance both patient outcomes and experiences. The overwhelmingly positive feedback, since the launch of the program, is a sure sign of success, with smiles to be found all around.

About the author

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Megan Reynolds, MS, is the Clinical Research Coordinator for the Level I Trauma Center at Baylor’s flagship hospital in Dallas, Baylor University Medical Center. She is a native Texan and proud UNT Mean Green alum.

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Animal Assisted Therapy: Patient Care Courtesy of Canines