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Hospital Pet Programs Unleash Healing Powers

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Preventing Problems continued...

Some hospitals have additional requirements. For instance, the University of Maryland Medical Center asks that pets wear a coat or T-shirt to lessen shedding and dander. State laws on animal visits vary, with Minnesota not allowing animals younger than 1, according to the Mayo Clinic's policy.

Proper pet selection also is important for a safe visit. To ensure that a dog has a nonaggressive temperament, Rush University Medical Center has a staff member call the pet handler to ask whether the dog has ever growled at or bitten anyone, Gallagher says. A unit volunteer meets the pet handler and dog when they arrive at the hospital to make sure the animal is friendly. The hospital staff members inform the patient and pet handler that if the pet misbehaves or causes problems, the visit will end.

At Rush, as at other hospitals, a designated staff person must stay with the pet throughout the visit. In addition, pets cannot be in Rush's obstetrics or psychiatric units or the neonatal intensive care unit, Gallagher says.

Doggone Friendly

The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio plans a different kind of pet-visiting program. The 500-bed hospital announced plans to break ground this spring for an attached pet-visiting center, which it calls "the first hospital-based, pet visitation center in the nation."

John Perentesis, MD, director of oncology at the children's hospital, suggested the addition after seeing a similar center at Alberta Children's Hospital in Canada. Pets will not need to be groomed or recently checked by a veterinarian -- policies required at some hospitals that he says are difficult for both the family and the pet.

Because the proposed center will have an exterior door and pets will not need to move through the hospital, there will also be less risk of aggravating allergies of other patients and visitors, he says.

"Our goal is to allow pets to visit patients with a minimum of inconvenience and cost to patients, families, and pets," Perentesis says. "It will be easier for the family, who is already under a lot of stress."

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