NYU Winthrop Hospital is providing a different type of medicine to its patients: dogs.
Winthrop’s Animals Give Support, or WAGS, is a pet therapy program that was officially launched in late August to help alleviate the stress of hospital visits for patients and their loved ones. It currently provides visits from Schnoodles, a schnauzer poodle, and Oliver, a miniature goldendoodle, who have attained celebrity status within the hospital.
“It was difficult for the dogs to make it down the hospital hallways because everyone wanted to stop and meet [them],” NYU Winthrop spokesperson Anne Kazel-Wilcox said about the first day of the program.
The dogs make daily rounds through the hospital, visiting patients who opt into the program directly in their rooms. Smaller dogs will even sit on the bed with patients if requested.
As a hospital is considered a complex environment, the therapy dogs and their handlers undergo extensive training in association with nonprofit organizations Pet Partners and Bidaewee to become certified. The training process includes testing for the dog’s reactions to different situations, special care on the handler’s part and infection prevention.
“We have had an overwhelming positive response,” said Angela Flesché, Schnoodles’ owner and certified pet therapy program handler.
Angela and Schnoodles have been certified and have visited multiple institutions, including nursing homes and libraries, since 2015.
Not only is pet therapy effective in relieving stress and promoting relaxation, but studies have shown that interacting with pets can actually improve a patient’s mood and have a relaxing effect. Particularly, this form of therapy has proven to be effective in decreasing blood pressure and lowering heart rates, as well as decreasing anxiety, according to Winthrop staff. The visits not only give patients something positive to look forward to, but make the hospital feel more like home for patients who have been away from their own pets due to hospitalization.
This program is available for all patients in the hospital, and it also offers much needed support to family members and even medical staff.
“It can be stressful working in healthcare,” Director of Volunteer Services at NYU Winthrop Jean Zebroski said.
Zebroski is a member of the team that oversaw the creation of the program. She said that seeing the dogs when coming into work, waiting in the surgical ICU or undergoing treatment puts smiles on staff’s faces.
“There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog,” Zebroski said.
Email Rocio Fabbro at [email protected]