A few Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) therapists use unconventional techniques to help patients overcome the stress of illness. Bridget – a member of YRMC’s Pets Are Warm Support (PAWS) – recommends a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the head. A Boxer, Bridget joined the pet therapy program in January 2017. Bridget’s “handler,” Althea Friedman has been a PAWS volunteer for 14 years, for many years with Tody at her side and now with Bridget. The PAWS program is sponsored by Volunteer Services at YRMC.

Most Mondays, Althea and Bridget head to the third floor of YRMC West where they visit patients and their families. People recognize Bridget is part of YRMC’s pet therapy program because of her friendly attitude, good manners and her vest—the YRMC PAWS “uniform.” Althea and Bridget go to the rooms of patients who have requested a PAWS visit. They then check in on other patients who may enjoy some Bridget therapy.

“The dogs seem to have an ability to choose which person needs them the most,” said Nancy Thomes, YRMC’s Director of Volunteer Services. “I’ve seen our pet therapy dogs go into an area with a number of people and head directly to the person who has experienced a loss.”

YRMC’s pet therapy program was launched in 2002 and is supported by the YRMC Foundation. Today, PAWS volunteers – people and their pups – volunteer at both YRMC East in Prescott Valley and YRMC West in Prescott. The hospital’s program is affiliated with Pet Partners, which evaluates and tests the program’s dogs for good health and strong obedience skills.

“It’s teamwork between you and your dog,” said Althea. “The dog needs to be able to conduct him or herself in a hospital, where there are lots of unfamiliar noises and crowded halls. It takes training and is a definite ongoing commitment.”

What prompted Althea to make that commitment? An experience nearly 15 years ago inspired her to join PAWS.

“My husband was a patient in the hospital,” she said. “He was asked if he would like a pet therapy visit. He said ‘yes’ and soon a woman with a collie walked into his room. Petting that dog gave him such comfort. It made me think, ‘I’d like to bring that kind of happiness to people.’”

And along with happiness, there’s research that shows dogs and other pets have positive health benefits for people. Pets lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and can reduce rates of asthma and allergy in some children. Even short term contact, like petting a dog in the hospital setting can relieve pain, alleviate stress and increase joy.

As Althea has observed, “It just does people a world of good to hug Bridget.”

To learn more about the PAWS program, contact Volunteer Services at YRMC West (928-771-5678) or YRMC East (928-442-8678).

For more information about the YRMC Foundation, contact (928) 771-5686.