By Rachel Merriman, Vitals contributor
Ruby stood proudly on the edge of the bed. Her wagging tail told a story of its own – and how could it not, with all the love she had received from hospital employees and visitors that day?
“You remind me of my dog at home,” 101-year-old June shared from her hospital bed as she softly petted Ruby’s soft coat of fur. She wiped away a tear as she graciously thanked Ruby and her dog handler. Not long after, June would be spotted walking through the hallway with her walker for the first time that day.
After years of hard work, Sutter Amador has opened its doors to a new Pet Therapy Program in partnership with local Amador County organization Twin Cedar Therapy Dogs.
“It is going to truly make a difference in our patients’ lives,” said Michael Cureton, chief administrative officer of Sutter Amador. “No one wants to be at a hospital. So if we can make their day just a little bit better, whether it be through a kind action or with a therapy animal, we want to make that experience special for them as they heal.”
On their first day at Sutter Amador, local pet therapy pups ranging from a Labrador, golden retriever and goldendoodle to a chihuahua, terrier and cocker spaniel received their official Sutter Health badges before taking the halls by storm. Patients’ faces lit up as they spoke softly to the dogs and embraced them with care.
“Not only is a warm, fluffy dog good for healing of the body, heart and mind,” said Donna Hall, Education Department coordinator at Sutter Amador, “it’s also great for our employees who work so hard to take care of our patients.”
In fact, findings have revealed that the human body often releases oxytocin – also known as the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone” – in response to the presence of animals like these therapy dogs.
According to the WALTHAM pocket book of human-animal interactions, being around an animal can have many positive effects on one’s overall mental and physical wellbeing. This includes helping people cope with the psychological effects of stress, resulting in reductions in cortisol and self-reported anxiety.
In addition to helping reduce the effects of stress, studies have also concluded that pets can lower heart rate and blood pressure, provide social support and even prevent certain sicknesses. According to a Psychology Today article, “Their presence alone is enough to calm you down, to give you warmth, to let you feel loved and soothed.”
Over the years, several studies have also proven many benefits in brain injury patients, pediatric patients, and those experiencing dementia, mental illness or insomnia.
As the only hospital in rural Amador County, Sutter Amador serves a population of more than 40,000. Thanks to this collaborative effort, patients at Sutter Amador can find furry comfort much closer to home than they might have expected.
“It’s just so rewarding for us to see how happy everybody is to see us come in with our dogs,” said Margé Blair with Twin Cedar Therapy Dogs. “We’re just an awesome group of dog handlers, volunteers and amazing dogs, and we are just so happy to finally be at Sutter Amador.”
If you live in or near Amador County and have a dog you believe would be a good therapy dog, please call Margé Blair at (209) 223-3194 to find out how to join. They are always looking for new members for their therapy dog team.