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.
Scully is a 6 1/2 year old Golden Doodle. Katie got Scully when he was 10 weeks old.
Scully is Katie’s second pet therapy dog. Molly, Katie’s first therapy dog, was not originally trained as a pet therapy dog but she through for Katie in an unpredictable way. When Katie experienced a life-threatening health crisis, she was required to be isolated for an entire week because the necessary medical treatment would make her radioactive. Her family had to go elsewhere and she could have no visitors, but she was allowed to have Molly. Molly became Katie’s sole companion for that week. As a result of that time together, they formed a very special bond. Not long after that experience, Katie’s daughter was looking for a project that would allow her to gain service hours for her participation in the National Junior Honor Society. Katie and her daughter were looking at options for service one day, and they both looked at Molly and remembered what comfort and companionship Molly had been during the time that Katie had to be isolated from her family and friends. They began researching pet therapy and decided that was what they wanted to do and set off to get Molly registered and certified. Katie and her daughter both certified to work with Molly as her handlers. Scully was 10 weeks old when he joined the family. Katie knew she wanted to train Scully for pet therapy. He was very bright and passed his Pet Partners certification when he was just a year old. Katie and Scully have been doing pet therapy for 5 years.
Central Arkansas Pet Partners (CAPP) was the organization Katie chose to work with to learn about pet therapy and to move through the process of becoming registered and certified. Katie volunteers at CAPP and also serves on their staff. CAPP is very focused and offers a program that is robust to ensure the well-being of the animal. They recognize the importance of the animal/human bond and want to make sure that they are offering the kind of training and support that helps handlers/pets recognize their skills and ability to thrive as they make their visits. CAPP has a quiz on their website that you can access to see if pet therapy might be something you and your pet would want to embark upon. CAPP does a great job of recognizing when a human or pet may not be a fit, but they also work to refine the strengths of teams who work well together. They work with the handlers and pets to make sure the experience is beneficial for both — it truly is a team effort.
Katie knew from the beginning that Scully would be a good therapy dog. She started pretty aggressively with training when Scully was a puppy. He took a little longer to train, but it has been worth all the effort.
What is Scully’s favorite activity?
“Scully loves to walk the neighborhood and look for bunnies. He also loves to ride in the convertible… with the top down!”
What is one thing Scully will not do?
“Eat green beans. At one point the vet put Scully on a diet. One of the things they recommended was adding green beans to his food. One night I had prepared green beans for supper with my family, so I decided to add the leftover green beans to Scully’s food that night. He went crazy, ate them up. So I thought, this is great, and the next day I bought 10 cans of green beans. That night I added them to his food and got nothing. He would not eat them. So I tried again the next night, again, not doing it – not eating green beans. So I started trying to figure out why he ate them so well the first time and now refuses. Then I remembered, the green beans I had fixed for the family meal were definitely done southern style with bacon grease. So we have determined that Scully is truly southern and likes his green beans southern style. Scully will not eat canned green beans.”
Have you had any unexpected revelations on your journey with pet therapy?
“There are times you make a visit and you leave and think, ‘Well that was good work, but I did not really see a spark of excitement or what we might normally see in a visit.’ Good work, but maybe just not all of the normal ‘feels.’ You kind of make a mental note and then move forward.
“My daughter and I both needed new tires for our vehicles. So I took one for the team and decided to dedicate an entire day to getting tires put on both cars. I showed up in the morning at the tire place with my car, got checked in and promptly parked myself in the lobby for the wait. When they were done, I took that vehicle home, picked up my daughters car and returned to the tire place where I once again checked in and settled into the lobby for round two. I think I was there in the lobby most of the day. At one point an older woman joined me in the lobby. We began to chat, of course we talked about our vehicles. I shared that I had a minivan and how I would really like a smaller car but since I have pet therapy dogs I needed the larger vehicle. What came next was a total surprise. Her eyes lit up and she began to share a story with me about her infant granddaughter. The granddaughter had been very ill from birth and had been in the hospital almost a year when a pet therapy visit was scheduled. The medical staff wanted to see how the baby girl might respond to a pet and perhaps the family could make a decision about a special service dog for her in the future. She went on to describe the pet therapy visit and the dog. I am sitting there thinking, she is describing Scully. Then I remembered the visit— it was Scully and me that visited that baby girl. I remember leaving that visit and feeling a little underwhelmed, wondering if we had really added anything to that baby girl’s life that day. I turned to the woman and said — that was me and my dog Scully. At that point the woman became very emotional and went on to tell me that her granddaughter did not survive. But the memory of Scully and that visit that day is still talked about by the family. It was one of the few times they had seen their baby girl smile. They treasured that smile. A visit from Scully that I did not think accomplished very much continues to bring comfort and joy to a family today. That has taught me to never underestimate the blessing of what we do, whether we see it or not.”
Katie and Scully get out and visit 4 or 5 times a month. We are thrilled to have Katie and Scully on the AHH Pet Therapy team. We hope you have enjoyed meeting these fabulous humans and dogs! They make a difference for our patients every time they come to visit. Arkansas Heart Hospital is grateful for the gift of their time and talents.
See our other beloved animal friends who take part in pet therapy at Arkansas Heart Hospital, along with other news and updates about our heart health team.