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Mayo therapy dog program: 'Many times you'll hear a parent say this is the first smile I've seen all day'

Mayo wants to double the size of the therapy dog program.

Posted: Sep. 6, 2018 11:02 AM
Updated: Sep. 6, 2018 3:02 PM

ROCHESTER, Minn. – There’s a certain kind of medicine that helps patients and it doesn’t come in a bottle.

It actually comes on four legs and with a wet nose. It’s therapy dogs. Mayo has about 30 therapy dogs in its mostly volunteer program.

Luka is the youngest dog in the program and works mostly with pediatrics. His handler, Lynn Caflisch, has been working with therapy dogs for over 12 years. We asked what’s kept her volunteering in the field all these years.

“It's been the response of the patients,” she said. “Many times you'll hear a parent say this is the first smile I've seen all day.”

It’s not just the patients they help.

“And the parents,” she said. “Because many times their pets are being boarded or they've been away from them for several weeks or months.”

These smiles the dogs bring patients are backed by science. Research shows engagement with a dog can reduce anxiety and pain.

Mayo is also researching how the animals can help nurses with burnout or productivity. 

“They’re not judgmental, they'll snuggle up with anyone, and they're just loving,” Jessica Smidt, coordinator of Mayo’s animal assisted therapy program, said.

The program is so popular, Smidt is looking to double the size of it to about 60 or 70 therapy dogs.

But not just any dog can become a therapy dog.

“They really have to have…50/50 balance of loving everyone, and enjoying be touched, and extremely obedient,” Smidt said.

Dogs then have to go through training and pass an obedience test. Mayo is offering it's own therapy dog training course on October 4. 

To learn more on how to join the therapy dog program, click here.

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