We hear a lot about therapy dogs that are specially trained to visit patients in the hospital. But I for one would want to see not just any dog but my own dog, if I were gravely ill and in the hospital. I know I’m not alone, and some nurses set out to determine the pros and cons of making pet visits happen for some patients in their hospital. What safety concerns might there be? According to the current available research, what benefits might patients experience? What protocols would be necessary if it were to happen?
Nurses from Memorial Hospital in Belleville, Illinois, set out to answer these questions and bring such a program to life. They give the details in “Family Pet Visitation,” a feature article in the December issue of AJN (free for a month), along with some moving photos of patients and their pets. Here’s a quote from the start:
An elderly male patient, hospitalized for a stroke, has been quiet and sad for several days. One of his nurses asks his daughter if she knows why. He misses his cat, she says. She believes his mood will improve if he spends some time with the pet and asks if she can bring the cat for a visit.
Pet visitation had never been allowed at our facility . . . . However, requests like these, and nurse recognition that pets were being hidden from staff and brought to visit patients, led to an informal discussion among nurses working in our hospital’s nursing education department. These RNs, who provide centralized and unit-specific education for the professional development of the hospital’s staff nurses, observed that some patients include animal as well as human members in their definition of “family.” Thus they wondered how to best value the patient’s desire for pet visitation, and if instituting such a policy was even viable in our hospital. Could—and should—nurses at our facility be doing a better job of acknowledging and facilitating patients’ relationships with all family members, including their pets?