Therapy Dog Program
The Bassett Therapy Dog program at Bassett Medical Center began in 2007 with four founding canine members, Jax, Zoya, Romeo and Penny and their owners, Vivian Beckman, Dr. Marina Bravin, Susan Miosek and Susan Hughson. Canines as ambassadors or pet therapy dogs have been widely used in nursing homes and other hospitals to visit inpatients and outpatients, as it has been documented that interaction with pets can help reduce a patient’s pain and improve his or her well-being, as well as lower blood pressure, promote relaxation, relieve agitation, anxiety and stress, and improve communication.
A therapy dog and owner visited with a patient at Bassett Medical Center only moments after she had received an upsetting diagnosis, with family nearby to support her. “The patient held onto him, hugged him and cried on him. He was still, and gentle, and nudged her cheek with his nose; he seemed to know that she needed him at that moment,” the dog’s owner related. Patients and staff comment that pet therapy at Bassett makes a difference to them.
“The therapeutic use of pets makes sense in a health care setting where patients are often anxious,” said Chief Operating Officer Bertine McKenna, Ph.D. “The animals are a source of comfort and positive focus, and we’re glad to be able to offer this program to our patients.”
New owners and their therapy dogs have come into the program and some have moved on, but the program remains an important aspect of the Service Excellence program at Bassett Medical Center.
Current participants in the program are Blue – the Catahoula Leopard dog (owner Anne Geddes Atwell), Max - the Rottweiler (owner Julie Murphy), Hunter – the Vizsla (owner Eva Alexander), Simon – the Golden Retriever (owner MaryAnne VanGorder), Chester – the Labradoodle (owner Jenny Richman), Lola – the Labrador Retriever (owner Carolyn Soderman) and Socrates – the Australian Shepherd and little ‘brother’ of Crackerjax. Crackerjax, one of the founding members, lost her battle with pulmonary hypertension and COPD in the summer of 2010. ‘Jax’ and her owner, Vivian Beckman, spent 10 years participating in pet therapy programs of various types, in Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York. Bassett was able to give back to Jax for her contributions through the efforts of Dr. Guy Amsden, the late director of Pharmacy Services, who facilitated the contribution of a life-saving yet prohibitively expensive medication that allowed Jax one more year of smiles and service. Socrates, “Sox,” is already roaming the halls of Bassett Medical Center, doing his best to fill the very big “paw prints” that Jax left behind. Jax was the “dog of a lifetime…and the additional year we had with her was a gift, one we shared with patients and staff every time we could,” said Beckman. Mandala – Chesapeake Bay Retriever (owner Dr. Dan Gregory) passed away in December of 2009, and there is a new “Mandy” in training as well.
Evidence exists that therapy dog programs provide the benefit of reducing blood pressure, anxiety and stress for patients, and staff have reported receiving many of the same benefits as the therapy dogs do their rounds. Bassett therapy dogs are all certified by Therapy Dogs International, have annual health screenings and are in full compliance with all required immunizations, as well as the Bassett Medical Center Therapy Dog Program policy.
Caring, comfort and compassion comes in many forms and at Bassett Medical Center and we are fortunate to have had so many wonderful participants and such a warm welcome for the Therapy Dog Program.
Information on Bassett’s Therapy Dog Program is available through the Service Excellence/ Volunteer Services by calling 607-547-3190.