Research shows that pet therapy in hospitals can reduce patient stress, blood pressure and anxiety. This is just one of the many reasons why pet therapy is offered at UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health North. After meeting certain requirements and being trained in workshops with Therapy Animal Coalition, registered pet therapy teams visit patients and help make a difference in their day.
Our pet therapy teams have been overwhelmed with the positive reactions from patients, and a couple of them shared their stories.
The McClains and Bella
Scott and Mary McClain’s dog, Bella, currently visits patients at UF Health North. Bella is so well-received by patients that she was recently featured on News4Jax and The Florida Times-Union. Bella has had a positive impact on many patients, but one story has stuck in their mind.
The McClains shared, “One of our most memorable visits was with an elderly lady and her daughter. The moment the lady saw Bella, a huge smile came across her face. We sat with her for 30 minutes while she pet Bella, and listened to her tell a story about a time when she fed her father’s pet raccoons peanut butter sandwiches while he was in the hospital.
The following week, we were eating lunch outside the cafeteria when the lady’s daughter came up to our table. She told us her mother had emergency surgery and was in the ICU. She asked if we could visit her mother, since the only time she smiled while in the hospital was when she met Bella. After receiving approval from her doctor, we went to see her for a second time. Once again, the same radiant smile came across her face when she saw Bella. Although she couldn’t speak and was in pain, the joy in her eyes spoke volumes to her family. We knew Bella helped shine a small light on her day and that is why we love being a pet therapy team.”
The McClains continued with, “One of the greatest things about visiting patients in the hospital is seeing patients’ expressions change from pain, apprehension and grave concern to instant joy and happiness when they first set eyes on Bella’s loving face. Keeping those images in our minds is truly worth a thousand words.”
Elizabeth “Bright” Wallace and Mr. Vito
Bright and her dog, Mr. Vito, have been a pet therapy team at UF Health Jacksonville since May 2007. Mr. Vito even has a special collar to wear when he visits the hospital. Bright said, “When I grab the collar out of the cupboard, he gets so excited. He runs to the back door and then to the car as fast as he can.”
Bright claims that Mr. Vito bears no judgment, only good will. He provides unconditional support for patients and creates a safe space. Many times patients tell Bright that seeing him made their day. She has been told from many patients’ family members that when they see Mr. Vito, it’s the first time they smile, laugh or speak during their hospital stay. He also inspires those who cannot normally communicate verbally to communicate through expressions or touch.
One particular moment has stuck with Bright since Mr. Vito has started therapy visits. Bright said, “I remember a patient we saw many times who was always in his room in his bed. He did not move, but appeared to see Mr. Vito. Mr. Vito would do tricks in the doorway. I never heard him say one word. One day this patient was sitting up in a wheelchair. Mr. Vito went beside him and gave his hand one gentle lick. This patient laughed, and that was the first time that anyone heard him laugh since he was in the hospital.”
Mr. Vito also enjoys seeing the staff during visits, and they love seeing him as well. When Bright and Mr. Vito walk through the halls, it’s common for them to hear staff members exclaim, “Mr. Vito is here!” or “Looking good, Mr. Vito!”
Interested in becoming a pet therapy team at UF Health? Contact Sandra Mallard at Sandra.Mallard@jax.ufl.edu or 904-244-4665 for information about the program and future workshops.