Sometimes, a wagging tail is just the motivation a patient needs to push through an intensive therapy session. That’s where “pet recreation professionals” like Walter and Charlie come into play. The two friendly (and hard-working) dogs are part of the animal-assisted therapy program at Mary Free Bed.
Penny Richards, an occupational therapist at Mary Free Bed, says incorporating animals into therapy is an enjoyable way for patients to work toward specific rehabilitation goals, like standing, walking or fine motor skills. “It’s very distracting. Patients are working and they don’t even know it.”
Animal-assisted therapy can be good for a patient’s emotional well-being, but the primary focus at Mary Free Bed is to use the dogs as a way to reinforce and boost a patient’s rehabilitation outcome.
Care teams work together to determine who is an appropriate candidate for animal-assisted therapy and the best way to incorporate animals into that person’s rehabilitation.
For example, a patient might work with an occupational therapist to practice feeding and walking a therapy dog, while a recreational therapist might help the patient to bake healthy dog treats. That teamwork ensures each patient gets the most enjoyment — and the most gains — out of every pet rec session.
The program isn’t just great for patients, either. Mark Hendershot, a handler for the animal-assisted therapy program, says his dog Walter relishes being a part of the healing process.
“Walter just loves this. He thrives on it,” says Mark, who was a Mary Free Bed patient in 2013. “Walter puts that blue vest on and he knows it’s business. He says ‘I gotta go make people feel good, dad: let’s do this.'”
Funds generated at this family-friendly event will benefit pet therapy and other vital services offered via the Mary Free Bed Pediatric Program. West Michigan Therapy Dogs and the Bissell Pet Foundation also will benefit from the event.
Supported by Meijer, the free event will feature games and activities at affordable prices. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcomed to join in the fun and even hit the “Trick-or-Treat Trail” in costume. Watch the video below to learn more about the event, or read the MLive story here.