Expansion and Enhancement of the UAH Pet Healing Program

The Cause

The University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) campus is one of Canada’s largest hospital networks. Comprising the Walter Mackenzie Health Science Centre, the Mazankowski Heart Institute, the Stollery Children’s Hospital, and the Kaye Edmonton Clinic, the UAH services a region as large as Western Europe and nearly 800 000 patients come through our doors every year.

The UAH Pet Healing program is an organized and coordinated component of the Volunteer Resources Department. We are a Canadian leader in hospital-based pet therapy. Our program was established over 20 years ago and today features 23 dogs who serve over 60 hospital units. No other Canadian hospital-based program matches our size and scope. Thanks to the effort and dedication of our volunteers and their dogs, every year we are able to positively impact the hospital experience of thousands of patients. The overall goal of our program is to promote improvements in patient physical, social, emotional well-being during their hospital visit through interaction with our therapy dogs. The program has two major service components, “Pet Therapy” and “Pet Visitation.” Under “Pet Therapy,” patients are identified by medical staff such as managers, nursing staff, physicians, physiotherapy/occupational therapy, and child life services as ideal recipients of this service. Therapeutic and goal-directed interventions are then planned by the healthcare professional and carried out with one of our trained pet therapy dogs. Pet therapy dogs play an important role in rehabbing many patients each year. Under “Pet Visitation” services, our dogs travel to one or more of the 60+ units which our program covers to provide:
• 1-on-1 visits
• Group visits
• Companionship during medical procedures

Pet visitation services are often requested by staff members for anxious, stressed, or lonely patients. The presence of these dogs can have a transformative impact on a patient’s hospital experience. Our dogs can provide a calming influence prior to surgeries, diagnostic procedures, and other medical interventions. Because of this effect, patients who have experienced the support of a therapy dog will request dogs in the future. As a result, we have received a number of patient and staff testimonials supporting the work of our furry volunteers and their handlers.

Our idea is to enhance and expand this program to the hospital experience for patients, their families, and the staff working at the UAH!

Who Will it Benefit?

Patients, their families, staff, and our volunteers will benefit from the enhancement and expansion of Pet Healing program.

A trip to the hospital is an experience that can be stressful and anxiety inducing. For many patients, it may be the worst day of their life. The goal of our program is to support the hardworking staff at the UAH in improving the physical, social, emotional well-being of patients and their family members. Each year, our dogs interact with over 30,000 patients/family members in the hallways and patient rooms of our 4-hospital campus. The impact of these interactions is considerable. There is something special about the unconditional love of a dog; each year we receive numerous letters from patients and family members detailing the benefits our program had on their hospital stay. We believe that through enhancement and expansion of our program, we can improve the hospital experience even more patients.

The Pet Healing program represents an important therapeutic tool for the staff at the UAH. Staff have consistently reported that dog interactions improved the mood, decreased stressed, and provided safe relationships for patients in their care. Importantly, the positive boost provided by dog visits extends frontline staff. Staff have shared that the dogs help to create happy work environments and serve as great stress relievers for them as well. By expanding and enhancing the Pet Healing program, we can continue to support the staff at the UAH as well!

We have some of the most dedicated staff in the province. To brighten the day of so many patients, volunteers give hundreds of hours of their time each year. In addition to their valuable time, each year the volunteers pay out of their own pockets a number of costs associated with this unique program. Their dedication and love for patients and pets is truly appreciated. This grant will go a long way in supporting them in delivering this program.