Therapy Dogs Train New Handlers at Memorial Healthcare System

Hospital employees train to be therapy dog handlers that visit and uplift patients of all ages

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Pet therapy dogs spent last week training new human handlers at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

The handlers practiced commands with the pet therapy dogs, took written exams and learned how to move around the hospital with them as they prepare to visit patients young and old, helping them recover from surgery or illness.

“Our therapy dogs are instrumental in the coping of our patients at the hospital. They’re really able to improve their vital signs, lower the blood pressure of a patient, and reduce anxiety and also help patients reach therapeutic goals,” said Sarah Buwalda, a Certified Child Life Specialist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

Memorial Healthcare System has five therapy dogs assigned to particular hospitals and rehab centers throughout South Florida.

Each dog requires four to five handlers, who are also employees at the hospital.

“The handlers are employees who have a passion for dogs and they see the benefit working within their own units,” said Buwalda.

They are all raised by the same breeder who trains them for the first two years of their lives. Each dog understands more than 90 commands in order to be a therapy dog.

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