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CVPH patients smiling over visits from some furry friends

PLATTSBURGH - The saying may go that dog is "man's best friend," but at CVPH Medical Center, dogs have been found to be friends to just about everyone.

Since last spring, the hospital has been encouraging interaction between patients and animals as part of a new partnership with pet therapy professionals. According to Cindie Gardner, vice president of patient services, the CVPH Pet Therapy program provides patients "a chance to interact with a trained, friendly dog to brighten their day."

"It's been demonstrated again and again that when you bring pets into a hospital environment, you visually can see the effects of it," said Gardner. "The interaction between therapy pets and patients contributes to their physical and emotional healing. "

While pet therapy has also been found to contribute to the reduction of stress and anxiety, it goes beyond that, said Gardner.

"The patients, the families, the staff - they all smile," said Gardner. "They want to interact with the dog and the handler."

Margot Zeglis, who routinely visits CVPH with her standard poodle, Amay, feels the interaction is something everyone involved gets something out of, she said.

"I think the hidden gift in this is the human-animal interaction," said Zeglis. "There's a spirituality about it, a magic about it."

Timothy Graves of Altona received a visit from Amay recently after undergoing a routine procedure at the hospital. Being a dog owner, Graves said he enjoyed having a little reminder of home.

"I think it's a great idea," Graves said of the program. "It's fun for the patients to have a little excitement during the day because it can be boring walking around or sitting in bed."

Not just any animal is right for pet therapy, however, said Zeglis. Dogs in the CVPH Pet Therapy program and their handlers must be licensed through Therapy Dogs International, Canine Companions for Independence or Delta Dog. The stringent standards animals and their handlers must meet is essential, said Zeglis, in providing a safe and enjoyable experience for patients.

"It takes a special animal to be a therapy animal," she said. "Even if you think your dog might be the best dog in the world, she may not be a good therapy dog."

CVPH is currently looking for qualified dogs and handlers to participate in pet therapy. For more information or to sign up to be involved, contact Sandra Geddes, manager of Community Outreach Volunteers, at 562-7595 or sgeddes@cvph.org.

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