Cigi Sparks Catawba Valley Health System
In the halls of Catawba Valley Medical Center, there are nurses, doctors, staff members and patients. From time to time there is a four-legged friend.
After a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CVMC pet therapy program is back in operation. One of the most frequent pets in the hospital is Oslo, a 4-year-old Labradoodle certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Accompanied by his owner, Anthony Diem, Oslo walks through the various floors of the CVMC to greet anyone who might need a little more puppy love.
“It means a lot to me to be able to bring happiness to patients,” Diem said. “Being in the hospital isn’t usually fun, so it’s great to make them smile.”
Oslo has been volunteering as a pet therapy dog for three years, a journey that began at CVMC. Oslo is not the first pet therapy dog to offer services at the hospital.
CVMC began its pet therapy program in 1999 with a residential service dog named Case E. After 10 years of work, the poodle retired in 2009.
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“Since Case E’s retirement, we’ve had a number of pet therapy volunteers who have brightened the day for staff and visitors alike,” said Heather Bissell, CVMC Inpatient Rehabilitation Care Coordinator. “Volunteer teams visit most parts of the hospital. If you are having outpatient surgery and need a distraction before or after the procedure, if you are on the inpatient rehabilitation unit and need help dealing with the disappearance of your pet due to of a longer hospital stay, or perhaps you are in one of our patient rooms or waiting rooms throughout the hospital – our pet therapy teams travel everywhere to ensure comfort .
Pet therapy can provide physical and emotional relief. The physical benefits include reduced blood pressure and overall pain, as well as improved cardiovascular health. Emotional benefits include reduced anxiety and loneliness, increased socialization, and reduced depression.
Currently, the CVMC has four pet therapy teams, although not all have returned to a regular volunteer schedule since the pandemic restricted visitation procedures.
“We are always open to accepting animal therapy volunteers, but there is a process,” Bissell said. “Volunteer teams should be trained, as we do not provide training, and they must have pet therapy certification through an organization such as Therapy Dogs International or Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Information about each certification requirement and the tests is easily accessible online.