How pet therapy improves patient spirits
Shari Finger wears several different hats.
The 53-year-old owns and operates a nail salon, has her own line of fresh made lotions and balms, and heads a program for advanced education in nail technology.
And on top of that, she is also a certified pet therapy handler at Elgin, Ill.-based Advocate Sherman Hospital. She began this volunteer opportunity in 2010 after years of training and handling search-and-rescue dogs. She has also published a book on how to train diabetic alert dogs at home.
Sherman Hospital currently has 13 certified dogs with handlers in the volunteer-based Pet Therapy Program who make more than 360 visits a month to patients in cardiac care, surgical care, oncology, pediatrics and adult medical care, orthopedics and neuroscience.
Research suggests that owning a dog or cat offers many physical and psychological benefits. At places like Sherman Hospital and Park-Ridge, Ill.-based Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, dogs are used to brighten a patient’s day and take his or her mind off being in a hospital for a few minutes.
Finger can be found visiting patients at Sherman Hospital on Thursday evenings with her dog, Draco, an 11-year-old golden retriever.
She discusses her love for Draco, and why pet therapy is not only important to patients, but hospital staff as well.
What got you interest in pet therapy?
Finger: I used to train and handle search-and-rescue dogs. Years ago, I became seriously ill and wasn’t able to walk, feed myself or even hold a piece of paper. I knew that my search days were over. I thought my life was over, and then one day I heard a jingle in the hall, which sounded like the jingle of dog tags. I got out of bed, held onto the wall, then the chair, and finally got to the door to see a therapy dog walking away from me. I realized at that moment that my life wasn’t over, it was just changing.
What makes Draco so special?
Finger: He amazes me every time we go to work. He has incredible focus, and when he visits a patient he makes direct eye contact and you know he is there to see you. He seems to understand that his job is to walk into that room and change it from what can be a lonely place to a few minutes of being greeted by a smiling, trail-wagging dog that looks at you like you are the most important person in the world. I’ve had patients just hug him and cry. I’ve had patients hug him and tell me that it was the best thing that happened to them that day.
How does pet therapy help not only the patients, but the hospital staff?
Finger: When it comes to the staff, no matter where we are in the hospital I hear people yelling his name. He is like a rock star. There are quiet moments with staff where he just brightens their day. On the fourth floor at Sherman Hospital, it’s not Thursday, it’s Draco Day.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.