For several years, Arkansas Heart Hospital has used pet therapy as a way to promote healing, motivate progress and lift spirits for our patients. These furry friends aren’t just helpful companions in times of need – they’re instant mood boosters when they walk through our doors. We’ve seen countless faces light up at just the moment they need something to smile about, and we know it’s going to be a good day when we see these pups in our halls.
Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal that aims to help that person recover or cope with a health problem or mental illness. At Arkansas Heart Hospital, dogs are the pet therapy animals our patients interact with, though there are many types of animals that can be used in pet therapy. We’ll be introducing you to some of our four-legged friends and the people that love, care for and train them to be a blessing to our patients.
Yeti is a 3 ½ year old mostly white Labrador Retriever.
Georgann is so involved with Central Arkansas Pet Partners now, it may come as a surprise to those who know her that starting pet therapy was a bit of a spontaneous happening for her.
“I knew I wanted to incorporate therapy dogs into my mental health practice. When I found my first therapy dog, it seemed to make sense to not only use them in my practice but also in a volunteer capacity for facilities and other places that could have a day brightened by a pet visit. I have used pet therapy dogs professionally and in volunteerism for over 20 years now. I got Yeti when she was 4 months old – she is my seventh therapy dog.”
Georgann started out by connecting with an organization called Pet Partners (petpartners.org). She realized early on that she would need help in order to ensure that her pets were vetted and trained since her first goal was to use them in her professional practice. She is now very involved with the local chapter of Pet Partners, Central Arkansas Pet Partners (CAPP) as a handler, instructor and evaluator. She also serves on the board of the local chapter. Georgann helps with education and information for those desiring to bring their pets into the pet therapy arena. Pet Partners is one of the most rigorous organizations for registering and certifying therapy pets. Georgann emphasized the importance of appropriate training and team work necessary for the handler and pet to perform at extraordinary levels and provide a wonderful and beneficial experience for those they visit.
After owning and training seven therapy dogs, Georgann has developed a good sense of how a dog will fare as a therapy pet.
“She says that it is a lot like raising kids – each one has a different personality and they all learn in a different manner. It also becomes easier to identify what specific skills each therapy dog possesses. With Yeti, she wasn’t quite sure if the fit was right, but she was determined to give it a try. Georgann got Yeti from a friend who trains service dogs.
“My friend had adopted Yeti and after four months asked me if I would take her. Yeti had too much energy to be a service dog. I agreed with the caveat that if it did not work out, she would take Yeti back. As you can see, I did not return Yeti. We worked hard and Yeti has become an excellent pet therapy dog. She was a bit of a wild child to begin with and honestly sometimes still is when we are out and about. But once we ‘go to work’ she falls into her role and brings great happiness to everyone we visit.”
What is Yeti’s favorite activity?
“Yeti loves to dock dive. She will do it until she drops. She also loves to chase and retrieve tennis balls.”
What is one thing Yeti will not do?
“I have two other dogs. We have a feeding schedule that we adhere to. Yeti has assigned herself the duty of helping with the food bowls. Her job is to bring all of the empty food bowls to me in the kitchen after all three dogs have eaten. This is a very important chore for her and she gets very upset if she cannot bring all three bowls to me. The one thing Yeti will not do is challenge Hank. Hank is our 20 pound Terrier (Yeti is a 60 pound Lab). Yeti will not challenge Hank for that bowl if he is not finished. Hank likes to linger over his bowl, causing great angst to Yeti. However, she will snatch the bowl away from the Corgi in a minute whether she is finished or not. Until Hank clearly is finished and moves away from his bowl, Yeti will not attempt to bring it to me. She will pace back and forth and wait until Hank says all clear. Yeti will not challenge Hank.”
Because Georgann is so involved with pet therapy and CAPP, she has extensive knowledge of the process for training and certification.here is an 8 hour course that the handler must take and pass. This course goes over topics like infection control, HIPPA, handling and much more. After that, the handler will come back for the second part of training which is done with their pet. This is for an evaluation of the pet, which takes about an hour. The pet will be given several “scenarios” in order to demonstrate how they respond. For example, a few volunteers will simulate an argument and get very loud and semi-aggressive, or evaluators might drop a metal object that is very loud to see how the pet “startles.” There are about 20 exercises the pet will go through, and the handler takes them through each exercise. We look at temperament and manners. The pet and handler are scored individually and as a team. Their certification is good for 2 years, then they recertify every two years thereafter.
Georgann says that while it seems like a lot, CAPP feels it very necessary in order to ensure that pets are vetted so they can be used in places like hospitals and hospice care in particular. We are thankful for the rigorous training these pets go through in order to bring a bright spot to our patients’ experience.
Yeti and Georgann bring so much joy to our patients, their families and staff. We can hardly wait for them to come back.
Check out our blog for more pet therapy features and to learn great heart health insights from our team of heart health experts.