Why More Hospitals Are Letting Pets Visit Their Sick Owners

Every personal pet visitation program has measures in place to ensure patient and staff safety at all times. Says Kirkland, "In addition to bathing and grooming before the visit, each pet must have a health certificate signed by his veterinarian that indicates the animal is up-to-date on immunizations, flea- and tick-free, and relatively good-natured."

But one thing is universal: "We are all about making our patients as happy as we can while they are in our care," Kirkland says. "We try to overcome any obstacles so that we can reunite our kids with their pets."

Visits Affect More Than Just the Patient

Interestingly, having a pet visit affects more than just the patient. "When a pet comes by, there is a lot of increased energy around the staff," Roy says. "And the family is happy because they feel like they are doing something, however small, to help their loved one."

But perhaps it's the pet on whom the visit has the biggest impact. "The animals really seem to understand that their loved one is in pain. You can tell that they just get it," Roy says. "We had one patient who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. His dog, a 100-pound Mastiff, was placed on a gurney that we could raise up to bed level. The dog then got onto the bed and lay perfectly still next to his owner for hours."

Today, only a handful of hospitals around the country allow pet dogs and cats to visit their loved ones. But based on the success of existing programs and the obvious love people of all ages have for their four-legged family members, we expect that number to grow exponentially in the coming years.

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