Pet Therapy: Benefits, Creative Uses, and Why We Offer It

Pet therapy is picking up steam throughout the health care world. Do you know all the different ways it's being used today?

Service animals are great for the blind and those with certain disabilities --- but new therapy solutions involving dogs, cats, and even birds and fish are gaining momentum throughout the health care world.

Our tagline, Caring in Motion, means that quality care for our patients and partners goes beyond just our transportation services. It's the driving force behind everything we do.

Throughout New Jersey, we partner with hospitals, special needs schools, rehab facilities, senior homes, and other facilities to provide ambulance, wheelchair van, and medical car services.


Part of the On Time team at our Roselle, NJ headquarters

To get feedback on our performance --- and to make sure we're living up to our tagline, we arrange regular check-in visits with our Quality Assurance Ambassador, Marilee Bush, R.N.

In 2007, Marilee rescued Dixie, a terrier mix from the Linden Animal Hospital. Noticing Dixie's mellow disposition, Marilee enrolled her into the St. Hubert's Pet Therapy Program --- where dogs and their owners become certified in pet visitations at healthcare facilities. At Dixie's evaluation, she scored a 98% on a test of her reactions to loud noises, crowds, wheelchairs, crutches, and other dogs.

In 2009, Marilee and Dixie began our Quality Assurance Pet Therapy (QAPT) program. As the name suggests, the QAPT program combines quality check-ups and pet therapy to create a unique value-added service to our facility partners.

Sadly, Dixie has since passed away. But the QAPT program continues with her son John's chocolate lab, Jessie. Like Dixie, Jessie has also successfully completed the St. Hubert's program and brings joy to the population she serves.


Marilee Bush, R.N., and Jessie

"We stay about an hour and during that time it's amazing how many patients remember Jessie. The recreation directors are putting Jessie on their monthly calendar. Everyone smiles including employees when we come in the door."

The visits give patients a chance to interact with Jessie, raising their spirits, lowering their blood pressure, and as some studies have shown, providing some other surprising health benefits.

Pet therapy can be particularly effective for:

  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans

We are proud to offer this unique service that supports our core philosophy and highlights our appreciation of our facility partners who count on us to provide transportation solutions.

Below are six surprising instances where pet therapy is becoming more widespread.

Curbing depression and agitation in dementia patients

Pet therapy visits with dogs have been shown to reduce levels of depression, promote social behavior, and calm feelings of agitation in elderly dementia patients.

Though it's been proven effective in helping with the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), the benefits of different types of visits and durations, i.e. extended vs. brief visits have yet to be explored.

One study showed that placing fish tanks in dining rooms of dementia care facilities stimulated residents to eat more of their meals and maintain a healthy weight.

Assisting elderly people in regaining their sense of nurturing

Pets make excellent therapeutic agents because "they meet an individual's need to be needed as well as their need to touch and be touched" explains psychiatrist Dr. Michael McCulloch. "Touch is one of our primary needs when we're born and one of our last needs to go."

Residents of long-term care facilities often don't feel that they're needed. Interacting with therapy dogs and cats allows them to regain their nurturing instincts --- even if only for a few minutes. They can physically touch and play with their canine and feline friends. This facilitates social behavior and encourages physical movement.

Relieving stress for ER physicians and nurses

Pet therapy isn't just for patients. It's also being used to relieve the stress of healthcare professionals.

Doctors and nurses at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania now spend their lunch hour playing with the puppies of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When the UPENN program began, it was the first of it's kind in the country, but it's since been rolled out in other hospitals as well.

Teaching prisoners coping mechanisms and new skills

When dogs and cats have been introduced to prison populations the results have been overwhelmingly positive for everyone involved. Here's one anecdote.

Earlier this year, Karma Rescue, a nonprofit that saves at-risk dogs from high-kill shelters across Southern California, partnered with the California State Prison Los Angeles County in Lancaster to create "Paws for Life," a program that matches rescued dogs with inmates who train them to boost their odds of adoption. Programs that pair inmates with shelter dogs exist across the nation, but this is the first program in California to take place at a high-security prison with inmates serving life sentences.

Asked about the experience, one corrections officer explained that, "a lot of times in this setting it's so depressing and you don't show emotion...feelings and when you have a creature that gives you unconditional love and licks you and doesn't care - you see men who've been in prison for 20 and 30 years break down and cry just for the compassion and the humanity. It's just generally made the yard a calmer place."


In an article on her experience with the project, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald summarized the project as such:

Five dogs. 12 weeks. Increased compassion. Better sleep. More patience. Peace of mind. Improved relationships. Smiles. Opened hearts. Expressed emotions. More unconditional love. At a maximum security prison.

And the dogs didn't charge for their services.

Helping veterans physically and emotionally

Dog therapy programs work with Veterans in several ways. Physical and occupational therapy dogs brace soldiers during transfers, retrieve household items, and help if the owner falls down. They can even help soldiers adapt to prosthetic limbs using tugging techniques.

Emotional Therapy and Combat Stress Control Dogs provide support for servicemen and women dealing with combat stress, home issues, and sleep disorders. "Soldiers have talked longer, and more meaningfully, to mental health professionals when the dogs were present," says

While Pet Therapy is not yet an officially approved treatment for PTSD, studies are underway to test its efficacy in treating the condition.


A service dog using a tool for opening doors

Helping special needs and autistic children --- and helping children learn to read

Pet therapy has particularly strong benefits for children with autism. Studies have shown that when animals were incorporated into therapy sessions, autistic children engaged in greater use of language and more meaningful social interaction. Immediately after pet visits, children reported feeling more self-assured, more aware of their surroundings, and more curious about new activities.

Paws for Reading --- a program of Paws for People, a non-profit pet therapy organization, teaches children to read by providing dogs as a non-judgmental audience.


Loki, 4-year-old boxer, and Paws for Reading volunteer

A look at the pet therapy visits at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh


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