Four dogs at Essentia Health in Duluth are helping patients recover

By KBJR News 1

February 15, 2014 Updated Feb 15, 2014 at 4:29 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- For those in physical therapy, or in need of healing on an emotional level, man's best friend is meeting the call to serve that greater purpose.

Four dogs at Essentia Health, in Duluth, are helping patients recover.

It may seem odd to see dogs walking around a hospital.

But at Essentia Health St. Mary's in Duluth, the sight is not so uncommon.

"I never ever underestimate the power of what the dogs can bring to our therapy sessions, so that's really kind of cool," said Pam Forsythe, physical therapist at Essentia Health in Duluth.

Essentia Health established the local therapy dog program at the hospital in 1993, when only two other hospitals in the country had been using dogs to help patients heal and find comfort.

"If I have a dog and were to be in the hospital... my goodness, what better service than to provide a little outside world?" said Pam Longville, one of the therapy dog trainers for Essentia.

Longville says the dogs act as motivators for patients to get better.

In some cases the dogs help patients regain motor control during petting and grooming, and at other times are used to help patients relearn speech through calls and commands.

"I've had dogs that have told me if somebody's had an infection or their bandages aren't quite right. I mean the smell.. I call it the 'worry look' when they'll sniff a wound and they'll look like there's something not quite right," said Longville.

The hospital has four therapy dogs, all of which have visits with patients regularly.

Forsythe, who uses dogs to help her patients, says the comfort of a dog is like nothing else.

"When you're in the hospital you're in an artificial environment, it's not home, the dogs bring that sense of home," she said.

The four therapy dogs at Essentia are all trained and certified to work with a variety of therapists and patients.

The requirements for therapy dogs at Essentia Health St. Mary's in Duluth are very detailed because therapists say they're very specific about the goals and expectations of the patients in recovery.

Elsa Robins