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West Bloomfield

Man’s best friend promotes healing and lifts spirits

August 25, 2014

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Seventeen-year-old Jordan Kennedy, of Royal Oak, pets Jaxon, a 9-year-old Maltese owned by West Bloomfield resident and volunteer Elizabeth Widmer.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Physicians and nurses are not the only ones enlisted to provide healing to patients.

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital has been using trained canines for five years to bring a smile to patients and guests in a setting that otherwise may be unnerving to some. And, according to Linda Smith, director of volunteer services at Henry Ford, despite the popularity of the dogs, some veteran and new patients are not aware that the furry friends roam the halls.

The hospital has two canine programs. The first is a facility-owned dog program where Henry Ford West Bloomfield owns two dogs — Henry and Benson — and the second is with personally owned therapy dogs where volunteers bring in their own certified dogs to visit patients.

The facility-owned dog program started prior to the hospital’s grand opening, and Henry, a 9-year-old black Labrador, was the first dog to have rounds in a Michigan hospital. Smith said that when the hospital celebrated its grand opening, Henry was dressed in a tuxedo and has since become a celebrity in the West Bloomfield area.

Henry is trained to interact with patients to promote discussion and aid in speech therapy, motivate physical therapy patients, ease feelings of anxiety, reduce staff stress and bring the real world into the hospital setting for patients who have been hospitalized for a length of time.

In October 2013, the hospital welcomed now 2-year-old Benson, a golden retriever, and he will soon celebrate his one-year anniversary of serving patients. As the two are official employees of the Volunteer Services/Greeter Department at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, they are equipped with employee badges.

Because the dogs are owned by Henry Ford West Bloomfield, the hospital covers the costs of the dogs, including veterinary bills, food and toys. Two staff members are the dogs’ host families, and Henry and Benson spend evenings, weekends and sometimes vacations with them. Upon the dogs’ retirement, the staff members will have the first opportunity to adopt them, Smith said.

While many may see the dogs roaming the waiting rooms or visiting room to room, staff members can request the dogs if they feel a patient could benefit from a visit. Those patients are priority stops for the canines.

“(They’re) a stress reducer for the staff, too,” Smith said. “The staff really know the dogs and look forward to them. They know what time they come around, and they’re ready and waiting.”

Trained volunteers walk Benson — Monday through Friday — and Henry — Monday through Thursday — to inpatient rooms and waiting rooms, asking patients if they would like a pet visit. If someone denies a visit, the dogs will not go into the room, Smith said. Anyone who interacts with the dogs is then offered hand sanitizer by the volunteers as part of the hospital’s hand-hygiene program.

Jeff Mark, a Henry Ford West Bloomfield volunteer from Farmington Hills, has been working with Henry for four years, and he said that he has never had a bad response from patients.

Though volunteers are trained to look for patient body language, say certain commands and make sure the dogs don’t pick up anything on the floor, Mark said that Henry and Benson rarely need correcting.

“(Henry) knows what he’s doing probably better than all the handlers (because) he’s been doing it for so long,” Mark said. “You only have positive experiences with people, and you get to walk around with a cool dog.”

After a long week’s work, Henry and Benson are pampered with a massage from Henry Ford West Bloomfield’s massage therapist in the Vita Wellness Center.

Through the therapy dog program, when owners of certified therapy dogs want to offer up their services one day a week, Henry Ford West Bloomfield screens the dogs and the owners for appropriateness for the facility, Smith said. Henry Ford West Bloomfield is unique in that the dogs travel a great distance around the hospital and the dogs are exposed to more people, meaning they need to be social. In total, the hospital has 23 dogs that are personally owned pets.

“We call them Henry and Benson’s friends,” Smith said.

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital will be launching a canine calendar fundraiser mid-fall for the facility-owned dog program. A limited number of calendars that will feature Henry, Benson and some of the pet therapy dogs will be available at The Live Well Shoppe in the hospital.

For more information about facility-owned and personally owned therapy dogs, call (248) 325-2528.

About the author

Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott covers West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and the West Bloomfield Schools and Walled Lake Community Schools districts for the Beacon. Cari has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Madonna University.

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