NYU Winthrop Hospital launched a highly anticipated pet therapy program, called “WAGS” for Winthrop’s Animals Give Support, and it kicked off with visits from Schnoodles, a schnauzer poodle, and Oliver, a miniature golden doodle. The two adorable dogs made rounds among patients and in public areas, delighting young and old alike and easing stress among hospital-goers. Faces lit up with smiles, and “Aws” were especially audible in the hospital’s main waiting area where Schnoodles and Oliver proved popular among visiting families, as well as among passing staff who couldn’t resist quick meet-and-greets with the pets. Soon, pet therapy will be offered to patients upon request, and while the program is expected to operate twice weekly at first, the hope is that it will grow to include daily dog visits.
“At NYU Winthrop Hospital, we take a holistic view of our patient care, not just addressing the physical health of our patients but their mental and spiritual needs as well,” said Jean Zebroski, director of Volunteer Services at NYU Winthrop Hospital. “Petting or hugging an adorable dog can be such a stress reliever, and so many of our patients have pets as well, so these visits are warm reminders of their best friends waiting for them at home.”
Studies have also shown that pet therapy visits can help patients’ health. Fibromyalgia patients, for example, showed significant improvements in pain and mood from pet therapy, and pediatric cancer patients were better motivated to participate in treatment protocols.
The WAGS dogs are certified pet therapy dogs in conjunction with the nonprofit Pet Partners, a national leader in pet therapy programs, and Bideawee, a leading no-kill pet rescue organization serving Long Island and the metropolitan area. Preparation for the NYU Winthrop WAGS program included: training and testing for the human end of the leash (the handler); practical testing for the dog including gauging a dog’s reaction to situations such as wheelchairs rolling toward them or busy waiting areas; and careful safeguards for infection prevention in the hospital setting, “wash-in, wash-out and wash in-between,” meaning handlers and pets are wiped down with antibacterial wipes before, between, and after patients. Barrier sheets are used if a patient wants a small dog placed upon their bed. NYU Winthrop hospital pet therapy volunteers also accompany each handler and pet during hospital rounds, like volunteer Joe Peluso, who also serves as a dog walker at the North Shore Animal League’s adoption center.
When 11-year-old Schnoodles was anxious to get going and be petted on her hospital rounds, said Angela Flesché, who owns and handles Schnoodles, “She just wants hands-on, hands-on … and she’s comfortable with kids pulling her ears or tail.” And with that, Schnoodles was off to find human new friends.