Gracie is one of five certified therapy dogs who make regular trips to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha.
The visits are part of the hospital’s pet-facilitated therapy program. Such programs are based in large part on studies that show that patients, like Isabella, who interact with animals exhibit reduced stress levels and improved emotional well-being.
Therapy Dogs Inc., Delta Society and Therapy Dogs International have certified more than 40,000 handler-animal teams to serve in therapy programs across the country. Outside of health-related facilities, volunteer teams also visit schools, libraries, courthouses and crisis centers. Several volunteer dogs were called to Ground Zero to provide comfort to the men and women working in the rescue effort, said Bill Kueser, Delta Society’s vice president of marketing. Health care providers, however, remain the most common institutions to incorporate animals into their services, he said.
Children’s program began informally in the late 1980s through the hospital’s volunteer services department. Nancy Ethington, Gracie’s owner, and two other volunteers streamlined the program to make it an official hospital service in 1995.