Dog visit: Just what the doctor ordered

Eddie visits Alice Furguson at Providence
Eddie, a 10-year-old Yorkie who has been doing therapy dog work for six years, gives some loving to Mike Lewis’ mother-in-law, Alice Ferguson, at Providence. Eddie was allowed to visit his dogsitter in a special pilot program being tested by PAWS. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis.)

Anyone who makes a home for a pet knows the benefits of the best animal interactions: companionship, unconditional love, warmth, friendliness, a gentle curiosity.

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Those benefits have not escaped human health experts. Study after study shows that humans who care for pets reap health benefits, from more exercise to lower stress levels.

“The human-animal bond is a unique, mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals; it has a major impact on the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals and the environment.” – American Veterinary Medical Association’s Committee, 1998            

Jillie in PAWS cart
Six-year-old Yorkie Jillie sits in a cart that Mike uses to navigate the hallways at pediatrics at Providence Alaska Medical Center. The cart makes it easier for Mike to carry Jillie, bedsheets, antiseptic gel and other supplies that they use when visiting the kids. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis)

Dogs as therapy companions became a reality in Anchorage in 1998 when Anchorage-ite Mary Troll began a pilot program to bring dogs for visits in the Children’s Hospital at Providence. In 2006, the program became official and was called Pet Assisted Wellness Services, or PAWS.

Today that service has grown from three teams visiting just one area of the hospital, to 29 teams visiting 15 different areas of the hospital and totaling up to 16,400 canine connections a year.

There are rules, standards and protocols. On today’s Hometown Alaska we’ll meet Laure MacConnell, coordinator of the PAWS program, to learn how it works. How are the teams (human and animal) trained? What about cleanliness? What about hospitals, can’t they be scary places with strange smells and sounds? Is it healthy for the dogs?

We’ll hear from a visiting team, locals Mike Lewis and Jillie, one of two Yorkshire Terrier therapy dogs. Mike has been offering therapy dog visits for six years.

Remy and Laure MacConnell
Laure MacConnell and her dog, Remy. (Photo courtesy of Laure MacConnell)

We’ll learn a bit about Pet Partners, a national organization founded in 1977 by veterinarians that provides appropriate standards. Pet Partners provides preliminary training and screening tools prior to the advance training PAWS’ therapy animal program volunteers receive after they join  Providence.  And according to MacConnell, other local health organizations are tapping into this national resource to begin their own therapy animal programs.

Do you have a pet who might make a good therapy animal? Find out how from the experts. Or have you benefited personally from a therapy visit when you were in a health care facility? We’d love to hear your story.

HOST: Kathleen McCoy


  • Laure MacConnell, coordinator of PAWS at Providence Hospital, along with her dog Remy
  • Mike Lewis and Jillie, a patient-visiting team
Mike Lewis and Jillie
Mike Lewis and Jillie visit with a youngster at Providence. (Photo courtesy PAWS archives)



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LIVE BROADCAST: Wednesday, December 3, 2014. 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. (Alaska time)

REPEAT BROADCAST: Wednesday, December 3, 2014. 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. (Alaska time)

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