Northern Light Inland Hospital welcomes therapy dogs with revitalized program

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 5:00 PM EDT
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WATERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville has recently revitalized a program that stopped during COVID by having two new paw-fessionals with specializations in snuggles join the team.

Murphy and Spencer are two lab siblings that recently began volunteering at the hospital as part of the pet therapy program.

Maria, Murphy’s handler, describes the responsibilities, “Murphy walks from room to room. If we see somebody sound asleep, we leave them alone. But otherwise, we’d go in and knock and say if they would like a visit from the therapy dog and most people say yes. And we go in and Murphy goes up to the patient in bed and wags her tail and puts her head up on the bed and they can pet her.”

Murphy and Maria visit the patients every Friday and have been for the last two months.

“First couple of times we visited, there were machines that sort of freaked her out a little bit, but she’s gotten used to all that, walkers and wheelchairs and all kinds of strange objects and sounds and smells, but she’s gotten used to it,” recalls Maria. “She gets a lot out of it. She gets very excited when we’re going to come. What’s not to love? She’s getting petted, she’s getting love, getting attention from everybody.”

“Pet therapy is very beneficial. It’s proven that when people pet or interact with animals, that they secrete endorphins, which helps decrease depression, anxiety, and increase moods,” says Courtney Cook, Vice President of Nursing & Patient Services at Northern Light Inland Hospital. “It helps them forget that they’re sick and why they’re here. Even if it’s a five or 10 or 15 minute break from their ailment, it truly does lift their spirits, help their healing, and make them smile.”

“Oh, it’s been proven in studies. Blood pressure comes down, heart rate comes down, cortisol levels come down. It’s physiologically and psychologically beneficial to the patients... and we get just as much out of it,” describes Maria of the effects and their experience.

Maria encourages anyone who has a behaviorally trained and mild-mannered pet to pursue therapy certifications. Northern Light Inland Hospital is currently accepting new therapy pets and volunteers.