Story via the Commonwealth Journal – Somerset, KY
Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital has recently established a pet therapy program for patients and staff throughout the facility. Cassie, a 19-month-old Red Merle Australian Shepherd and Freedom, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, are the two new caring canines offering support and comfort to patients and staff on a regular basis.
Cassie, a Certified Therapy Dog through KY-911 C.O.P.s. (Community Outreach Pups), has her Certificate of Excellence and badges for Service Dog and KY-K911 Soldier Saver. Her pet parents and handlers are Lawrence and Marsha Underwood who are both employees at LCRH. Freedom is a “facility dog” and is owned by Paws with Purpose (PwP), a 501c non-profit organization in Louisville, Kentucky that provides assistance dogs to many hospitals around the state. Facility dogs begin their training as early as 8 weeks of age and partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation, or education setting. Freedom’s handler is Dr. Manoj Chandran, a psychiatrist working with the behavioral health unit at LCRH.
Both Cassie and Freedom have gone through extensive training to obtain their individual titles as Animal Assist Therapy Dog (AAT) and Facility Dog. To even be considered, there are certain requirements that must be met related to the dog’s age, temperament, health, training and certifications. Lawrence and Dr. Chandran have also dedicated many hours and resources to their own training. Both handlers must keep up with certifications and evaluations on a regular basis and need to continually meet standards and regulations for the service dog industry.
“I was introduced to Animal-Assist Therapy while working at an equine alcohol and drug treatment program,” said Lawrence Underwood, M.Ed., a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at LCRH. “I have seen firsthand what a difference an animal can make in someone’s life. Since Cassie has been coming to the hospital we have been met with range of positive emotions, from elation, smiles, joy and yes even happy tears!”
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are numerous scientifically proven benefits of pet therapy. Having a pet around can offer improved mental, physical and emotional health and aid in lowering levels of stress, anxiety, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. A dog’s ability to offer a calming presence and a sense of companionship has also been shown to help patients recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders. Hospital staff also benefit from pet therapy, as the animals can often neutralize work-related physical and emotional stressors.