Montefiore Starts Pet Therapy Program

Montefiore Medical Center’s most popular new volunteer is furry, has four legs and goes by the name Spirit.

Spirit, a dog, is the first animal to be part of the new pet therapy program in Montefiore’s palliative care unit. He has been visiting patients, all of whom are terminally ill, twice a month since late December. Any patient in the 34-bed unit can request a visit with Spirit while at the hospital. The goal of the program is to boost patient psyche with the presence of an animal.

“He reminds me of my own dogs,” said patient Anne Wadsley, a Harrington Avenue native. “The dog is energetic. And dogs are very friendly, especially when you’re sick.”

The pet therapy program has been in the works for years at Montefiore, but only recently became a reality. There was bureaucratic red tape, and the matter of finding a dog to participate before the program got started. Spirit was recruited through his owner, who had previously volunteered at Montefiore.

“We had been talking about this for a couple of years,” said Doris Brown, nurse manager of the palliative care unit.

“There were issues about bringing a dog into a hospital environment, for example you may have a patient who is allergic to dogs,” Brown said. “And who would be responsible for the dog?”

Many other hospitals across the country use pet therapy as well. And Montefiore’s young program has been a resounding success.

“It’s better than I ever imagined,” Brown said. “The benefits and rewards are immediate. It really has been awesome in terms of boosting patient and staff morale. You can see the physical response from the patients.”

Dr. Rose Guilbe, director of Montefiore’s palliative care unit also said the program has become an asset since it was implemented.

“It’s a form of healing that’s soothing for patients,” she said. “It relaxes them. It allows them to interact them a dog that takes their mind away from I.V. poles, and medication. It’s extremely therapeutic.”

Spirit, and any other animal that joins the program, must go through a special training process, so that their behavior is relatively predictable in a hospital setting. Anyone interested in volunteering their pet for the pet therapy program can contact Montefiore’s volunteer department for more information.

Bill Weisbrod can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3394.

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