Patient appreciates UF Health's pet therapy

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB)-- The Neuromedicine Interdisciplinary Clinical and Academic Program has been helping UF Health patients with pet therapy for over 20 years.

"Every single time I've accompanied one of pet therapy teams, I'm just happy the entire rest of the day," NICAP Graduate Intern Syndney Fuller said. "I can only imagine what patients who may have gotten some bad news or just kind of lonely. I can only imagine how important that visit is to them as well."

UF health Neuromedicine Hospital patient Sara Wright has been in the hospital since Thursday and she loved the opportunity to meet a pet therapy dog named Beau during her stay.

"I think it's a good thing especially when you're in the hospital you get bored," Wright said. "You need to have something that distracts you while you're in here."

Wright underwent a Laminectomy procedure on Thursday and has been recovering from the surgery.

She has an 8-year-old dog of her own at home named Sadie and she is thankful that the program helps keep her mind off of the procedure.

"He was just so cute and fuzzy," Wright said. "It makes you happy. It really does. The whole time he was here, I didn't even think about my pain."

Beau's handler Terry Biehl said volunteering in the program has been fulfilling. She has been a UF Pet Therapy volunteer for 3 years.

"I got into this to give back to the community, to be a part of the community, and to keep volunteering and doing those kind of things," Biehl said. "I've been surprised on how much it has changed me and how rewarding it has been for me."

Biehl said the reactions from patients varies.

“We have many different reactions," Biehl said. "I’ve gone into a room and someone’s taking one look at Beau and just burst into tears. Their just so happy to see us. Sometimes their just laughing and giggling. Some patients try to get off the bed and get on the floor with the dog."

Hospital employees benefit from the pet therapy, too.

"For the staff, when we see a dog come up on the unit, we get excited as well," Neuromedicine nurse Jennifer Melara said. "When we're under stress, just to have a few minutes to touch the dog and rub them, it just takes your mind out of the stressful world of nursing and it's almost like taking a little break."

Melara said pet therapy is important for a patient going through a difficult time.

“The patients need physical healing but they also need mental healing and emotional healing during a difficult time,"Melara said. "I think to just be able to take a moment away from the stress and kind of relax your mind is a really important piece of the healing process.”

Whenever Beau is ready to see the next patient, he raises his paw and waves "goodbye."

To become a pet therapy volunteer, email nicap@health.ufl.edu or call (352) 273-6961

Here is the link to the Pet Therapy Volunteer Form: https://nicap.med.ufl.edu/patient-information/programs-available/pet-therapy/