Furry four-footed friends help humans heal

Photos by Sue Suchyta
Dolores Brighton (above left) of Allen Park pets Alpha, a terrier Chihuahua mix owned by Laine Dailey-Papke of Huron Township. Below, John Trent of Taylor pets Archie, a long-haired miniature dachshund owned by Tammy Fetter of Garden City, at Oakwood Heritage Hospital in Taylor during a Pet-a-Pet Club visit.

Times-Herald Newspapers

TAYLOR – Sometimes the best healers have four paws, a tail and soft fur for petting, as volunteers at Pet-a-Pet have discovered.

The group, founded in 1986 when Ruth Curry and a handful of volunteers began visiting local nursing homes with their dogs, cats and rabbits to cheer up residents, has grown to more than 300 volunteers and their pets, who visit disabled and abused children and hospital rehabilitation patients as well throughout the metropolitan Detroit area.

At Oakwood Heritage Hospital in Taylor Aug. 15, Jim Glinski of Dearborn Heights, a Pet-a-Pet volunteer for the past 15 years, brought Briggs, a dachshund and Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix to visit with rehabilitation patients on the first and third floors of the hospital.

Glinski said when he originally started volunteering with Pet-a-Pet, at Oakwood Common in Dearborn, he enjoyed developing long-term relationships with the rehabilitation patients he visited, and liked seeing them cheer up when they saw the volunteers and their pets making the rounds.

He said the dogs enjoy socializing with the patients.

“Studies show that dogs, and pets in general – it could be cats or anything – tend to lower blood pressure,” Glinski said. “Doctors have verified that as well, so it’s a very good thing.”

The Pet-a-Pet website also lists relieving loneliness, boredom and depression; providing sensory stimulation; increasing morale; and providing an outlet for emotional expression, as well as a feeling of being loved and accepted as positive benefits of pet visits with patients.

Pet-a-Pet does not require training for the visiting pets, whose vaccinations must be up to date, and who must be friendly and accepting of strangers and other animals. They also must be non-aggressive and not afraid of loud noises.

Anecdotal patient feedback from pet visits has been extremely positive, and patients appreciate the Pet-a-Pet volunteers, said Jennifer Arapoff of Plymouth, Oakwood Healthcare senior account executive for marketing and communications.

“We have people who request the therapy pets,” Arapoff said. “They ask for them and they want to know when they are going to be there. I would think some people might be put off or hesitant, but when I’ve been around them I’ve only ever seen outreached arms and an outreach of warm welcoming kind of reaction to them. I’ve never seen anybody hesitate, which is surprising, because out in public you do see people hesitate with dogs in particular.”

Lisa Jacques of Taylor, a volunteer for four years with her dog, Talon, said she likes to make other people happy and see them smile when they are sad or lonely. She added that long-term rehabilitation patients who have been in the hospital for months really miss their own pets.

“I love to see the dogs interact with the people and what they do for them,” Jacques said. “Talon loves it. He is very good. Talon will try to scoot in close to them to reach them so they can pet him.”

Laine Dailey-Papke of New Boston volunteers because she has a passion for dogs and knows the healing benefits of pet therapy.

She said patients light up when they see her dog, Alpha, a terrier Chihuahua mix.

“Some of them get really emotional,” Dailey-Papke said. “Maybe they’ve lost a pet or they had to leave it at home because they are here and they miss their dog. They just like petting them and we like coming.”

She added that the hospital employees are supportive of Pet-a-Pet visits as well.

Mary Chamberlin of Dearborn Heights, who coordinates Pet-a-Pet visits at Oakwood Heritage, volunteers with Sebastian, a chocolate lab, who is also an American Kennel Club registered therapy dog with more than 50 hours of volunteer time.

She said AKC officially recognized Pet-a-Pet — which has volunteers in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Lenawee counties — as an official pet therapy group six months ago.

She said Pet-a-Pet volunteers visit more than 79 facilities with more than 200 dogs and members, as well as a few cats and rabbits.

“We have a list of facilities that want visits that we just don’t have the dogs to fill or the volunteers to staff,” Chamberlin said. “A lot of our volunteers do two, three and four visits to different facilities in a month and we’re stretching them as thin as we possibly can.”

For more information about Pet-a-Pet, or to volunteer, go to www.petapet.org or contact President Pat Glinski at 313-278-4428 or pgglinski@yahoo.com.