Pets can play an important role in an individual's recovery and overall healing process, which is why the University of Maryland Medical Center takes pride in offering the Patient's Personal Pet Visitation Program as a safe process through which family members can schedule visits for their loved ones' pets to visit them during their hospitalization. Below, Reverend Susan Roy, director of the Department of Pastoral Care Services, answers some frequently asked questions about the program. Please click on the questions listed below or scroll down the page to learn more.
Pets are really important in the healing process, both while an individual is hospitalized and during his or her overall recovery. These animals are incredible motivators, and oftentimes, if patients have primary responsibility for a pet, they will talk about needing to get to a point where they can return home to care for that animal. We also know that once we are at home, our pets are great motivators to keep us active and healthy. We also often talk about animals as being non-judgmental. They will listen to us at great length and just be present with us, oftentimes acting a sounding board until we find our way back to well-being.
The Patient's Personal Pet Visitation Program exists to allow people who are hospitalized under certain circumstances to have their pets visit them while they are in the Medical Center. This program creates a standard process by which pets can come into a patient's room and have a safe visit with their owner or loved one.
The University of Maryland Medical Center is actually one of only a few hospitals in the United States with an established personal pet visitation program. There are a few other hospitals that boast really premiere programs. The University of Iowa, Methodist Hospital in Houston and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester have long-standing, well-established personal pet visitation policies. However, I think the idea of implementing a personal pet visitation program is something that is beginning to grow and spread in other areas.
The reason that the Department of Pastoral Care Services decided to take this program as one of our initiatives is because we know that pets, or companion animals as we sometimes refer to them, are very loyal, and there is a resonance in our department in that sense of faithfulness and loyalty. We also know that, in all of the world religions, there is a sense of responsibility for all that has been created, including animals. So, looking at not only the practical ramifications of this program, but also the theological importance of that relationship that we share with animals, this program was a really natural fit for our department.
I often say that it's great that we have all of these different ways in which pets can visit patients. We have "Pets on Wheels" and we have therapy pets through organizations such as the Delta Society, and we also have animal-assisted therapy. However, if I am hospitalized -- and I think many people who have pets would echo the same feeling -- I am likely going to want to see my pet. It's almost like saying that we have specially trained children or spouses who can visit you, instead of having your own children or spouse visit you. I want to see my pet just as much as somebody would want to see their child or their spouse. We need to understand that pets can be as much a part of the family structure as any other configuration.
In the office of the Department of Pastoral Care Services, we have a pamphlet that we share with families to help them through the process of scheduling a visit with a patient's pet. In addition, there are two forms that are only available through our office that we ask patients or their loved ones to complete before the pet is brought to the Medical Center for a visit. One form is a vaccination record that must be completed by a veterinarian. Instead of bringing the pet's records to us, we simply ask that patients or their loved ones have their veterinarians complete this form. The other form is a waiver of responsibility that we ask the individual responsible for scheduling the visit to sign. These forms are available through our office and we can help people complete these items as necessary.
For the most part, pets would be a cat or a dog.
The Department of Pastoral Care is staffed 24/7, so we can arrange visits whenever it's convenient for the family and for the nursing unit.
Upon a pet's arrival at the Medical Center, a member of the Department of Pastoral Care Services will meet with the pet and loved one at a pre-designated area to escort them through the Medical Center to the patient's room. We also provide an escort out of the building as well.
Patients, families and staff members have been overwhelmingly pleased with the program. Families often tell us how grateful they are that we were able to provide an opportunity for their hospitalized loved ones to see their pets. Patients have said that it provides them not only with a sense of comfort and peace, but also with a sense of normalcy, which oftentimes is lost when people become hospitalized. These individuals move into the Medical Center where everything is regulated for them -- we tell them what they're going to eat, when they're going to eat, and what they're going to do. The staff often becomes patients' social structure, and the ability to see their own family and friends is really important.