Richmond pet therapy programs expanding - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Richmond pet therapy programs expanding

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

If you own a pet, you know they can make you happy. But a growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can also make us healthier. HCA Virginia's Chippenham and Johnston Willis Hospitals recently expanded their pet therapy program.  

"Come on Schaffer, come on boy. Come on! Good! Good boy."

Not your average stroll in the park for this yellow Labrador retriever or this black lab. 9-year-old Fraser and 3-year-old Shaffer are hard at work making sure patients at Johnston Willis hospital feel loved. 

"Good boy, oh look at you! Yeah,  now that's a baby," said Russ Cress as Fraser jumped in his hospital bed. Cress is wrapping up a ten-day stay for a gastric bleed. He's longing for home and a visit from Fraser means all the world. "Those guys love and understand what's going on and understand that you're not 100 percent. So look at his tail. You're tail is wagging."

Fraser and Schaffer are certified therapy dogs, spreading love, companionship and more wisdom than you might realize to sick and terminally ill patients.

"They're happy. Sometimes if they're not in a good mood that day, they're having a rough moment, the dogs just take that away," said Daniel Ronquillo. He's a recreation therapist and runs the pet therapy program. He takes them through the floors to visit patients and even leaves them to wander in the waiting area.

They often work hardest to help cancer patients.  "There's even been cases where we've known of a patient who might be passing away later that day or is right on their deathbed and this one here, Fraser has done that on several times. Of just being there and comforting them making them feel at ease before that happens," said Ronquillo.

If watching these dogs in action isn't enough, there's plenty of research to back up their work.
The earliest studies date back to the 80s. Researchers found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn't.

Another study found that petting one's dog could reduce blood pressure.

"Patients that are really anxious or patients that are sometimes very angry with their diagnosis, I'll bring  him in  with me, just settles the whole room down. he's awesome," said Dr. David Randolph, an oncologist. Fraser even has a bed in his office.

Randolph sees firsthand what these dogs do for not only himself in a difficult job, but also for his cancer patients. "You can see people's spirits go from flat and dull to animated and happy when he comes running over to them," Randolph said.

It may not be the first place you expect to hear that familiar jingle of a collar coming down the hall, but these hospitals are embracing their furry workers and the comfort they bring to countless patients.

"His little tail is wagging huh! Rachel: Is it uplifting? Russ: Yes! Piece of home? yeah, I'm just, I'm happy," Cress added.

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