Stamford Health is the latest medical facility to bring a therapy dog on board. The Connecticut hospital has enlisted a Golden Retriever named Harrison to provide support and comfort to patients and staff as the facility’s first full-time therapy dog.

Stamford Health welcomes new therapy dog

Navigating healthcare can be daunting, and Stamford Health aims to alleviate that stress. Enter Harrison, a 27-month-old, 80-pound Golden Retriever. He’s a big, fluffy bundle of love — with brains.

With more than two years of intensive training, Harrison is well-prepared to take on his duties. He can respond to 53 cues and perform various tasks that offer solace and support to both pediatric and adult patients, as well as hospital staff. Unlike volunteer pet therapy dogs that make brief visits, Harrison is a dedicated member of the Planetree & Patient Experience team.

Harrison has several handlers and works throughout the health care system. He assists patients, care partners, and staff in pediatrics, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, and emergency medicine, among other departments.

Golden Retriever plays critical role in patient care

In pediatrics, Harrison’s role is invaluable. He showcases medical procedures in a non-threatening way, helping children overcome their fears. Whether it’s demonstrating the application of a cast or swallowing a pretend pill, Harrison is the perfect role model. He demonstrates how to receive an IV line and how to breathe through a nebulizer mask. Harrison’s willingness to accompany young patients on the gurney ride to the X-ray room further eases their anxieties.

Harrison also proves to be an excellent partner in physical rehabilitation. He engages in specific activities, like playing ring toss or rolling a ball back and forth. These exercises help people improve muscle strength, coordination, and functionality. Additionally, Harrison assists patients by nudging them gently when their balance wavers. He can even press specially marked buttons to open doors! Additionally, Harrison’s trainer is on hand to teach the furry employee more tasks.

Emotionally, Harrison offers crucial support to behavioral health patients who may struggle to communicate with their fellow humans. When patients become agitated, the Golden Retriever soothes them by lying atop their outstretched legs, acting like a comforting weighted blanket. Clinical staff dealing with traumatic experiences also find peace in Harrison’s presence.

“Harrison improves the patient experience and staff well-being because he connects with people in ways that other people may not,” a Stamford Health press release states. “He is an extension of Stamford Health’s person-centered care approach and proof that healing doesn’t always come in a pill. Sometimes it takes a cute pooch to make people feel better.”

Though he is new to the job, it’s clear that Harrison’s impact is profound. He enhances the patient experience, bolsters staff well-being, and fills the void for those missing their own dogs during extended hospital stays. By reducing anxiety and spreading joy, Harrison reminds us that healing can come in unexpected forms — like a cute, four-legged friend.

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