August 28, 2013

Maury Regional Medical Center introduces pet therapy program as part of patient-centered care


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) recently introduced a new pet therapy program that brings animals and their handlers together with patients who may benefit from interaction with a furry friend. The medical center is working with Pet Partners®, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improve people’s health and wellbeing through interactions with animals, to certify the pet teams who will serve as part of the medical center’s long-standing volunteer program.

According to MRMC Volunteer Services Director Cindy Fox, the concept of a formal pet therapy program was first considered when the medical center adopted the Planetree model in 2011. Planetree focuses on providing patient-centered care in healing environments. Pet therapy has been shown to have positive effects on patients’ wellbeing.

“Research has shown that our stress and anxiety levels can be reduced when pets are around. We hope this therapy program has a positive impact on our patients and visitors,” said Fox.

Pets who are candidates for the therapy program are initially evaluated for their ability to follow basic commands and to verify that they are controllable, reliable and predictable. Those who meet the basic criteria undergo a formal evaluation to determine how the animal reacts to distractions, loud noises, meeting strangers, being petted and walking through crowds. Handlers must complete on-line training and pay the required fees. Once a team is certified through Pet Partners, the animal and handler go through the standard process of becoming volunteers at MRMC.

Four teams have completed the certification process and recently began visiting with patients. Faye Kinzer and Ginger, a three-year-old toy poodle; Sonja Dickson-Rine and Candi Suzanne, a retired racing greyhound; Dee Bowen and her boxer Ella; and Vicki Shelton and Murphy, a bouvier des flandres, will be joined by other teams as the certification process is completed.

“The certification process requires dedication and financial commitment on the part of each pet owner. We are so grateful that these individuals have committed their time and resources to this new program,” said Fox.

Kinzer, an employee of MRMC, first became interested in pet therapy while attending training about the Planetree model last year. “Little did I know how educational and rewarding the certification process would be for both me and Ginger. I have read many interesting accounts of the positive effect pets have had on patients in other facilities across the country and I am convinced we can make a difference in the healing process of our patients at Maury Regional.” 

According to Dickson-Rine, patients typically respond positively when animals visit. She recalls an encounter that Candi Suzanne had with an older patient. “Candi Suzanne walked up to him and rested her head in his hands. He slowly and gently lifted her face up to his and began telling Candi all about a black dog he had when he was a boy. He laughed out loud at some parts of his story and cried a little when he told how his dog lived to be very old and died in his sleep on their porch. When we left the gentleman’s room, his caretaker followed us into the hall and said that in all the time she had cared for him she had never heard him speak in complete sentences until that day.”

Dickson-Rine encourages other pet owners to consider volunteering for pet therapy programs, such as the one now offered at MRMC. “We get out of life what we put into it and I cannot imagine a more worthy or noble way to spend one’s time than helping people and pets,” she said.

Staff members at MRMC will use the medical center’s pet therapy policy to assist the handlers in determining departments and patients that may benefit from a pet visit. Pet owners interested in learning more about the new program may call 931.380.4047.


Four pet therapy teams have been certified to visit with patients at Maury Regional Medical Center. Pictured above at left are Dee Bowen and Ella. Pictured above at right are (l-r) Faye Kinzer with Ginger, Sonja Dickson-Rine with Candi Suzanne, and Vicki Shelton with Murphy.