A new kind of visitor will soon be setting foot inside the University of Maryland Medical Center. Like most visitors, they'll bring well wishes to patients, but instead of coming with flowers or balloons, they'll come on leashes, wagging their tails. These special canine visitors will be headed to the fifth floor as a pet visitation program gets underway at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children on January 16.
Animals have a calming and soothing effect on children, says Sally Morris, a child life specialist at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children. This program, which allows dogs to visit with young patients, goes along with our philosophy of treating the whole child, both physically and mentally, she adds.
Programs like this have long been a mainstay of geriatric care, and are becoming more popular in the pediatric setting, says Jay Perman, M.D., chief of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and professor and chair of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He adds, We are grateful to those people who put the program together and those who are supporting it.
Many studies have shown the positive impact of animals on people. Pet interaction can help lower blood pressure, increase optimism, and improve morale. Most of the research documents the benefits of animals on geriatric patients. There has been less research on the impact of pets on hospitalized children, possibly because it's harder for children to verbalize how pets help them, adds Morris.
I know if I were sick, I would want a dog to visit me in the hospital, says Anne Millman. She is one of the volunteers who will be bringing their dogs to visit pediatric patients on a weekly basis. Millman has a five-year-old yellow lab named Echo. She says, Echo is so friendly and so tolerant. I can't wait to share him with the children.
Dogs like Echo must be evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure they are healthy, up-to-date on vaccinations and well tempered before they are allowed to come to the University of Maryland Hospital for Children. A dog will only be allowed inside a child's hospital room if the parents, doctors and nurses have approved the visit.
I have seen first-hand the effects of this kind of program, says Morris. I've watched very sick children ask to be visited by a pet. The patients at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children will benefit from this program.
Anyone who is interested in enrolling their dog in the Pet Visitation Program can call Pets on Wheels at 410-783-2424.
On January 16, 2002, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., the University of Maryland Hospital for Children will hold an official kick-off of the Pet Visitation Program. Members of the media are invited to attend.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.