Pooch Power Cuts Stress, Promotes Healing
By George Nevin
Not all health care practitioners wear a lab coat and carry a stethoscope. Some wear a dog collar and are more likely to say “woof” than to ask how you’re feeling that day.
Therapy dogs, brought to the clinic or the bedside by their owners, are playing an important and growing role in promoting calm, helping patients relax, and reducing tension, fear, loneliness and stress.
For five years, Sophie the English bulldog has been a calming, loving presence at the Women’s Health Resource Center (WHRC) at the California Pacific Medical Center. Says one patient, a woman in her 60s, “When Sophie is there, it feels like home. She always greets me and puts her head in my lap. If I am in tears, she looks at me like she is worried and concerned. She brings my stress level down.”
A Compassionate, Safe Place for Women
Sophie’s human, nurse practitioner Barb Silver, RNC, M.S., FNP, founded WHRC in 1996 at CPMC. She says, “We wanted to create a compassionate, safe place for women to come to where they could explain their issues and concerns, and then become better informed.”
This nurturing, loving approach to care has clicked with Bay Area women – the center sees thousands of patients annually and receives more than 10,000 patient visits a year from women who take advantage of classes, individual health consultations and support groups.
Therapy Dogs Give Unconditional Love
Therapy dogs are used elsewhere at CPMC – in the hospital setting and in the Skilled Nursing Facility at CPMC’s Davies Campus. Volunteers bring their dogs to visit patients, who find their spirits lifted by the unconditional love that dogs seem to specialize in.
Barb is sold on pet therapy in a clinical and hospital setting, and has hard data to back her up she says. “Research has shown that animal companions are beneficial to human health in many ways. From reducing allergies and depression to increasing fitness and quality of life, our relationships with animals have proven beneficial for decades.”
She does not bring Sophie to work every day, but the little bulldog with the kind eyes and pink belly often comes to WHRC by “appointment,” when someone asks that she be there. One patient recently made an appointment with Barb, then upon arriving said, “I don’t want to offend Barb, but I’m really coming to visit Sophie.”
When she’s “on duty,” Sophie lies on her dog bed, waiting for the next hug or rub. “A patient will come in and Sophie will get up and go to her and want to be rubbed,” Barb says.
Others get right down on the floor with the dog or even curl up on her dog bed. For that moment, says Barb, “you are being taken care of unconditionally and you don’t have a problem.
History of Caring
Over the years, WHRC staff has counseled, and Sophie has comforted, women facing cancer, menopause, eating disorders, nutritional issues, osteoporosis, sexual concerns and many other problems.
Barb says, “Our staff is a great group of women who are warm, welcoming and compassionate, and Sophie helps boost morale for them, too.”
Many WHRC services are tailored to women hospitalized just before or after a difficult pregnancy. Barb explains, “When you’re hospitalized, you have different kinds of stressors, and sometimes a massage can be a godsend. It relieves the discomfort of being in bed, and it is physical contact when you don’t have a lot of that in the hospital.”
It would be hard to prove that a majority of WHRC’s success is due to a little English bulldog, but don’t underestimate the power of a pooch. “It’s not rocket science – with dogs, you know that someone cares for you, even without knowing you,” says Barb.
To learn more about the Women’s Health Resource Center, visit cpmc.org/whrc.