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.
Upon his retirement 4 years ago, Darrell was looking for a way to occupy his time when he was invited to attend a Central Arkansas Pet Partners (CAPP) meeting. Pet Partners is a national organization with a local chapter that provides pet therapy training for handlers and their pets. They have been training through their therapy program since 1990 and have set the standard for what it means to deliver excellence in animal-assisted interventions. During the meeting Darrell attended, a discussion took place in which those attending shared why they were involved with CAPP. They talked about their pets and the types of places they visited to deliver therapy. One woman shared about how she and her pet would visit hospice, and this resonated with Darrell – his wife had passed away about eight years prior and spent the end of her life in hospice. He was so grateful for the care his wife received while she was in hospice care. “This just seemed like a great way to give back and help others in similar situations,” he said.
Darrell’s dog Annie Sue is an 8 year old Golden Retriever. Darrell got her when she was six weeks old. They have been involved in CAPP for about two years. They did all of their training, both handler and pet, through the Pet Partners training program. This consists of training for the handler and training/testing for the dog. As soon as Darrell was certified as a handler and Annie Sue passed her test, they were ready to begin “visiting” patients.
Darrell knew when they started this journey that Annie Sue would be the perfect therapy dog.
“You know when your animal is comfortable around people and you know what situations they will positively respond to,” Darrell said. “I knew from the beginning that Annie Sue would love it and do very well. I think every dog and handler find their own niche. In addition to impacting the people we visit, I found that I was also impacted. It has helped to meet some of my own emotional and spiritual needs.”
What is Annie Sue’s favorite activity?
“Annie Sue loves to go for walks. We like to walk around a lake that is nearby. She loves to travel. I have family in Northwest Arkansas, she loves to get in the car and go. Squirrels, she loves squirrels. When we walk by the lake, she may give a half-hearted sniff and bark to the ducks, but man, the squirrels – she wants to get after them.”
What is one thing Annie Sue will not do?
“Well, okay – this is embarrassing, but Annie Sue does not like to retrieve. I know, she is a Golden Retriever. But after one throw, she is pretty much done. No more retrieving.”
What is Darrell’s favorite thing about visiting?
The expressions on people’s faces. Not just the patients, whose reactions are priceless, but the expressions of delight, relief, joy and release that we see wash over the faces of the family members. It helps them to be able to see their loved one enjoy and be encouraged by a pet visit. It brings so much peace and comfort to the patient and the family. And the staff of the places we get to go – it is always such a treat to know that we are bringing a level of joy and relief to those working so hard every day to take good care of their patients. Such a little thing, yet so much impact.
Each handler and pet set their schedule for visiting and the places they like to go. Darrell and Annie Sue made about 100 visits last year. They love to go to Arkansas Heart Hospital and Clinic, Easter Seals, the airport and of course a local hospice.
We are privileged to have Darrell and Annie Sue visit our patients and staff frequently. Learn more about Central Arkansas Pet Partners here and discover how Arkansas Heart Hospital provides only the best in cardiac care for its patients.