Animal-Assisted Therapy

A different kind of therapist.



Vandy and Faith are trained Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) dogs. They work full-time on the Mary Free Bed Recreational Therapy team. The dogs at Mary Free Bed come to work to restore hope and freedom through rehabilitation just like our humans do.

Animal-assisted therapy engages patients of all ages and abilities in a range of therapeutic settings. Both of our sweet-natured pups work with recreational therapists to help patients meet specific rehabilitation goals. Their presence alone can lift spirits. 

Two animal-assisted therapy dogs, Vandy, a black Labrador Retriever, and Faith, a Golden Retriever, lie on the rec therapy floor and look up at the camera.

What does it take to be an AAT Dog?

Being an AAT dog is hard work! It takes a lot of time and training. Before joining the Mary Free Bed team, Vandy and Faith trained at Paws With A Cause® for two years (that’s 14 in dog years!).

And humans need training, too! Therapy sessions with our dogs are directed by a recreational (rec) therapist. Our rec therapists receive intensive training to learn how to work with the dogs and best help Mary Free Bed patients.

Depending on your goals, rec therapists might also collaborate with a physical, occupational or speech therapist.

Katie Harrington, Mary Free Bed recreational therapist, works with Vandy, a black Labrador Retriever, using a balance ball in an animal-assisted therapy session.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Vandy and Faith are here to motivate patients to achieve specific rehabilitation goals during therapy sessions. They’re also experts in simulating pet care tasks. They help people practice caring for their pets when they return to their home and community. Patients see physical, emotional and cognitive benefits from working with our Animal-Assisted Therapy dogs.

Improvement in:

  • Fine & gross motor skills
  • Wheelchair mobility
  • Endurance
  • Self-esteem
  • Attention skills
  • Memory
  • Verbal expression
  • Sequencing
  • Problem solving
  • Caring for pets independently

Decrease in:

  • Heart rate & blood pressure
  • Anxiety & depression
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Stress
  • Pain
Vandy, an animal-assisted therapy dog at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, dressed in a patriotic costume with star-shaped glasses for a Fourth of July celebration.

Meet Vandy 

Vandy lives with her primary handler and spends her free time going for walks in the neighborhood, playing in the yard and relaxing.  

  • Favorite treat:Peanut butter off a spoon
  • Favorite game:Cards (especially UNO)
  • Favorite napping spot:Underneath the hammock in her backyard after work. 
  • Favorite thing to do off-duty:Take long walks and meet other neighborhood dogs. 
  • What makes her happy:Dancing around and between people’s legs 
  • Pet peeve:When people touch her ticklish paws
  • Bedtime routine:  After having her teeth and hair brushed, she’s tucked in with her favorite plaid blanket
Faith, a therapy dog at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, being

Meet Faith

Faith lives with her primary handler and spends her free time visiting her family farm house in the country and playing fetch with a tennis ball.    

  • Favorite treat:Carrots (or any food, really!)
  • Favorite game: “Spin the Bottle” rec therapy-style
  • Favorite napping spot:Snuggled up against her older doggie sister, Maggi 
  • Favorite thing to do off-duty: Visiting with her “auntie” (her primary handler’s sister) who lives next door 
  • What makes her happy:Completing 3 galloping spins before eating her meals
  • Pet peeve:Getting groomed and people ignoring her when she wants to be pet
  • Bedtime routine:  After her final potty break of the night, she gets one more treat before settling on her bed.

About Paws With A Cause

Vandy and Faith come to Mary Free Bed from Paws With A Cause (PAWS), a national non-profit organization based in Wayland, Michigan. Both dogs spent two years of intense training to become certified AAT dogs. Vandy was the first-ever AAT dog trained by PAWS.

Learn more from our friends at PAWS.

Vandy Faith Rec Therapy Paws With A Cause
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