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Published on August 06, 2014

Wags is Something to Bark About

Animal-Assisted Therapy Program makes
a Difference for Patients, Families and Staff

Roberta and Sarah

Interested in being a Wags Volunteer?

Do you have a special dog, some spare time and interest in volunteering time in your community? If so, Palos Community Hospital is interested in hearing from you for possible involvement in Wags, our Animal-Assisted Therapy program.

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When our four-legged volunteers visit Palos Community Hospital, tails wag and faces light up – bringing the perfect complement to the care we provide to patients and their loved ones.

The Wags program at Palos began in 2008 as the result of research demonstrating the benefits of animal-assisted therapy. These visits have been shown to lower blood pressure, ease stress and anxiety, and help patients focus on something other than their illness or injuries.

“A lot of times patients start talking about their dogs at home, so it helps them recover so they can get home to their pets,” says Cheryl Stephens, Wags coordinator at Palos. “We keep a book with special stories about our patient encounters. In one case, a patient in a semi-coma opened his eyes when his hand was placed on the dog. These visits really promote healing.”

More than 50,000 patient visits have been logged since the program launched, with Roberta Kobb and Sarah, leading the pack with more than 2,800 visits over the last five years.

“The things the dogs can do amazes me,” says Roberta. “They really do have a way with relaxing patients and their family members, and even the hospital staff. These visits really make people’s days. You just see a difference in people’s mannerisms.”

Roberta, who also volunteers with a Cocker Spaniel rescue group, first met Sarah as a stray. She says she quickly fell in love with “the little pup with an unstoppable tail” and knew she had great potential. “Sarah has a good attitude and she’s gentle. She loves meeting new people all the time. A lot of times people don’t know my name, but they know Sarah.”

To be a part of Wags, a dog must be obedient to its owner, have a good temperament and be engaging. The dogs selected for the program go through several days of training before they are officially part of the team. “That’s why the selection process is so important. We can’t accept a dog that won’t connect with people. That’s not the point.”

The Wags program started with 23 dogs and now sits at 53, with its success showing in the popularity of the information cards about each dog. “Our patients love the cards. They often line them up in their rooms,” Cheryl says.

But our furry friends don’t let it go to their heads. When they walk in or get their special collar with their badge, they know they are here to make people smile.