What do therapy dogs do in an Emergency Room?

Coco was the best medicine

Coco was the best medicine

Therapy dogs are welcomed in more and more environments and ER’s are no exception.

People often ask me “what do the dogs do in the Emergency Room?”  Aren’t they just in the way with the doctors and nurses too busy, the noises and activity level too crazy for a dog?

Well, perhaps for some dogs but for the Love Dogs chosen to participate, it is their best work.

When people come to an ER they are scared, confused and very emotional. The children are this ten-fold. Even a simple exam can be traumatic. Looking in a child’s ear that is infected is painful. Putting in an IV line on a wiggly, screaming child is difficult. Waiting, waiting, waiting is tedious and boring and frightening.

How is this accomplished?

We always begin the visit by greeting the staff and asking if we are not to enter any particular exam rooms. Any rooms where someone is thought to be infectious or for other reasons not appropriate for visiting, we do not enter.

Then we just work our way room to room.

The dogs can be utilized as distractions and calming influences.

A crying child will look at the dog, and of course we need dogs that will look directly at a screaming child! This momentary distraction away from whatever is being done helps move the procedures along.

Petting Kirby with one hand while the other is being worked on changes the whole experience.

Having Benny lie down right in the child’s lap or next to him on the bed, makes exams more enjoyable and less frightening.

Having Rocky walk into the room is so surprising even the most frightened child looks and wonders “Do I really see a dog in here?”

We are careful with the larger dogs as they may be scary, especially if the child has had a dog bite or other negative experience. This is not the time to try and desensitize the child to a large dog!

Sometimes the ER is not very busy and the dogs can spend a good length of time with one or two children. Sometimes, however, every room is full thus the visits are shorter but we always determine where the dogs can be most useful and spend the most time with those children.