Hospital Hounds


Hospital Hounds

By Joanie Buettgen
Copyright 2010

When you’re a patient, in a hospital, your pain is real. This feeling can be intensified especially after surgery. The last thing a patient would ever think of seeing, in the hospital, is a dog.

But, that’s exactly what happens when a Therapy Dog enters our hospital. We, at Ridgeview Medical Center, are proud to have these dogs visit us. As they enter our front lobby, they are welcomed with a smile and a friendly pat on the head.

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is just one patient therapy program we have at RMC. It was started in 1976.

Some people might be apprehensive about this first encounter with the Therapy Dogs. Visits from our canine friends can vary from patient to patient depending on their needs. There are some individuals that do not care for this one on one with the TD. That’s Ok. But, for many people these dogs can bring a big smile to their faces. After the initial welcome by the dog, some people say that they have sparked a cherished memory in them. Some recollections are happy, some are sad, and some carry a special love of their own companion long after they are gone.

TD can alleviate concerns a patient experiences either before or after surgery. These dogs do sense these emotions and help our patients with their kind disposition.

Delta Society is another TD program used at RMC. They have been in the dog business since 1977.

Some health benefits of TD can include: lower blood pressure, lower stress, and lower anxiety. In general, they help us feel great in the process of our recovery.
We all know the health benefits of dog ownership and that special human/dog bonding.

TD do create a special kind of love and attention, plus many health benefits that our RMC administration and staff recognize.

Many questions arise about these TD that we’ll try to answer.
Some of requirements are: a good personality, a love of people, and the dog should be accustomed to strange places.

To be a TD their state health screening requirements and vaccinations must be up to date. These dogs are always well mannered and pose little risk to the public. Each must pass a temperament evaluation for suitability to become a TD, which includes the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC). The test will include the evaluation of the dog’s behavior around people with the use of some type of service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.).

We are proud to have many special TD. One is our very own Oliver. His handler is Katie Tompkins and she is a Pet Therapy, Home Care/Hospice Volunteer.

Recently, Katie described her experiences with Oliver and the patients. “In the hospital, it’s something people don’t expect. It brings joy, and causes them to sit up and take notice and takes their mind off their illness.”

A typical appointment with the dog and the patent goes something like this. “TD go to the hospital every other Saturday during the summer. An appointment is set up.” Said Tompkins. “The patient doesn’t know of these visits. But the nurses know ahead of time that they will be visiting.”

A nurse would then ask the patient, “Are you interested in seeing a dog?”

The patient’s response might be, “No, I don’t want to see a dog”
But when they see the dogs face, then they say, “Well…let me see him!”

Even the handler, of these dogs, can experience joyful times with these visits. “It’s fun to see people set aside their troubles with their health, and just pet the dogs.” Said Tompkins.

Tompkins enjoys her dog, Oliver, a Dachshund. “When we go to the hospital, he knows when I put on his special scarf and badge. Then he gets excited. He knows when we go through the doors, at the hospital, he immediately settles down. They have a sense when they see a patient in a bed. It’s more about their temperament.”

The health benefits of these dogs are numerous. Some come as a surprise to family members. “It brings the patient joy and helps them not be so focus on their illness.” Said Tompkins. “One day I was in the elevator, talking to a family member. Her Mom had not been responding, and she was unconscious. I took the patient’s hand and stroked Oliver’s ear and she responded and started mumbling. She hadn’t responded in a long time…here was something unexpected, it helps.” Said Tompkins.

“All sorts of dogs can be good at this,” said Tompkins. “They need to have a sense about it, they have to be well-trained, they have to be comfortable in different settings, and with children. It really depends on the dog.”

Tompkins added, “TD can be any breed, they need to have a sound temperament, like all ages of people, and be certified by a national organization. Oliver went through a few different behavior classes, passed the Canine Good Citizen Test, and then TD certification.”

In closing, these dogs are used in all sorts of situations, including hospitals, hospices, schools, and physical therapy sessions with children. TD are used in times of trauma like 9/11. But those dogs/handlers need additional training and evaluation.

Joanie has been published:, Minnesota Moments Magazine,, County Historical Society, Kansas City BBQ Society, Carver County News, National Barn Alliance, and Ridgeview Medical Center newsletter.
Memberships: National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Toastmaster’s, Minnesota Newspaper Association, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop attendee.
Social Networking: Blog:,, http://www.linkedin/com/in/joaniebuettgen.


4 responses »

  1. Great story, Joanie. Where was it published besides your blog?

    A therapy dog visited my mom in the early days of her last illness. She made both of us feel better.

    Jody has a great idea. Perhaps you could attach a story to the daily menu.

  2. I think the dogs should carry some of your funny pieces, Joanie, attached to their collars. Give the patients a double whammy of happy. Maybe EB Heron could make a few stops with “humor” under his wings.


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