Caring Canines: Hospital Dogs Helping Humans

November 28, 2013

Some of the best hospitals in the country are going to the dogs - but it's a good thing! As Martie Salt explains, man's best friend is helping patients and their families feel better and get well sooner.

Each week sunday - a golden-doodle - visits this mayo clinic radiation oncology waiting room. His job - to cheer up everyone he meets! Diane Parisi's husband is having spinal surgery. She was feeling sad and nervous before "sunday" walked in.

''He just turned my, it's almost cliché, but he turned my frown to a smile,'' Pairsi said.

Sunday's owner - Kristi Leonard - says her pooch lifts moods every day.

''Literally, the way peoples' faces light up. If they're just walking along and they see the dog, and it's just, ah, like a breath of fresh air,'' Leonard said.

But dogs don't just make people feel better - they also have health benefits!

Interacting with man's best friend can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and improve lung function. One study showed heart attack patients with dogs were eight-times more likely to be alive a year later.

"It really changes the whole feeling of an exam room when the dogs come in,'' said Nancy Skaran, administrator of the Caring Canines Program at Mayo Clinic.

Zoe also visits patients and their families. Her owner takes time off work to volunteer.

''It's just the most incredible feeling I've ever had,'' said Linda Gibson, a volunteer at The Caring Canines Program.

They take their work seriously - but when the day's done - even the mightiest mutts get, well dog tired!

The Caring Canines Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is run by volunteers. They currently have 18 dogs and owners that participate.

To qualify - the dogs have to be trained, evaluated, and registered with pet partners, a national organization and must also be up to date on their shots.

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