Can Dogs Come into Health Care Hospitals?

'We love your pets, just not inside'. The sign is common for restaurants and coffee shops. But there's no such sign at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto in Southaven, MS, where Belle, a five-year-old Collie, is making visits to elderly patients in the acute care unit.

Belle represents hope for patients such as Sam Chambers who had a stroke a week ago. Sam's wife Martha told The Commercial Appeal: "He needed this. He can't move one of his arms, but he can move around a little. We are thankful for that."

The concept behind pet therapy is to add some excitement to the lives bedridden patients and to give them something to look forward to.

Belle, and the owner the Memphis-based Mid-South Therapy Dogs and Friends organization, make frequent trips to Southaven, a suburb across the state line in Mississippi. The dogs get the people to smile, a positive task in a setting for the chronically ill. The dogs know what people need, they can sense it. And that helps them get well faster.

In addition to pet therapy, the Southaven unit wants to introduce music therapy and a program, where volunteers provide feeding assistance by encouraging the patients to eat, while at the same time socializing with them.

Pet therapy is used in Assisted Living and Continuing Care Residences.