Review the latest information on visitor policies, safety procedures, vaccines and more in the COVID-19 Resource Center.

Adjust Text Size: A A A

home / insist on marianjoy / outpatient therapy / pet therapy

Marianjoy's Pet Therapy

Inspires Patients

Although pet therapy has become popular recently in rehabilitation, Marianjoy's Therapeutic Recreation Program recognized its impact early on, offering dog therapy shows and group goal-oriented therapy for almost 20 years.

Now, Marianjoy's Pet Therapy Program has expanded to include interactive one-on-one dog therapy with patients by request. It not only brings a smile to patients' faces—it makes a big difference in their recovery.

Canine-Assisted Therapy, led by Marianjoy occupational therapist Andrea Demola, was developed to assist speech, occupational and physical therapies. The goals of the program include increasing upper-extremity range of motion, balance, mobility and coordination; as well as improving communication, language and cognition. Therapy dogs differ from service dogs, which are trained to perform specific tasks for persons with disabilities, such as the visually impaired, deaf or otherwise medically impaired. Certified by Therapy Dogs International, the therapy dogs, on the other hand, are trained to provide emotional support, encouraging and inspiring patients.

Marianjoy's daytime therapy dogs, black Labrador retrievers Bailey and Bella, along with their owner/therapist Christine Murphy, impact dozens of people with each visit. "The dogs make patients relax and smile," Murphy explains. Rima Birutis, Marianjoy pediatric speech-language therapist, agrees, adding that Murphy is instrumental in guiding the emotional connection between patients and Bailey and Bella. "The dogs are so gentle and giving," says Birutis. "It's amazing how many pediatric patients who wanted to keep to themselves, reluctant to participate in therapy, will embrace the dogs within 15 minutes. It makes the children open to rehabilitation." Murphy says the reaction is almost instantaneous: "When I walk in with one of the dogs, heads turn and conversation starts. The patients get excited and start asking questions, forgetting what is bothering them or what obstacles they have to overcome. Before they know it, they are doing the activity that seemed impossible before."

A Favorite Part of Therapy

David, a head engineer at his company, is one patient who has benefitted from pet therapy. When he arrived at Marianjoy with a traumatic brain injury, his initial goals were to sit up and swallow. He surpassed those goals and went on to regain speech and walking capabilities, too—thanks in part to Marianjoy's Pet Therapy. "The change in David was immediate," says Rita, David's wife. "The peace, soothing and unconditional love the dogs have given him have been so important." David's family says that the dogs have improved his confidence and motivation. "They are one of my favorite parts of my rehabilitation program," says David. "They're really attentive to what I'm doing. Even if I'm not as loud or clear as I want to be, they respect my commands and that gives me the confidence to keep trying."

Murphy says that David is a great example of how pet therapy can help patients achieve their goals. "Even if patients may not be able to speak, you can see a change in their eyes. You can feel them relax. They accomplish a task that they never thought they could."