Local Hospital Uses Animal Therapy to Help Rehab Patients, Seniors and Kids

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Tallahassee, FL – Noel Gonzalez remembers crossing the street on Capital Circle and Woodland and was suddenly hit by a car without its lights on going close to about 50 miles an hour in the dark. He admits “I didn't even see it coming and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in the hospital." Noel Gonzalez is one of many people going through the rehab program at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, however, this particular program offers recovery with the help of a four legged companion. According to Jim Tebo, a Physical Therapist at the TMH Rehabilitation Center, "it just allows people to relax and they can have a chance to laugh for a few moments then forget about what their problems are at the time."

Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy uses animals to calm, motivate and engage patients. Program Coordinator, Stephanie Perkins, says there are a lot of things that people will do for animals that they won't do for humans. Perkins admits “we can use the animals as a conduit for mobility. People with mobility issues they can grasp a brush maybe in the hand they are having problems using or the arm they are having problems moving and they can use that brush to maybe brush the dog gently."

The TMH Animal Therapy Program visits 50 facilities in the Big Bend area. Perkins says “we visit children, seniors and adults, The children we visit can be child victims of violent offenses, that's at the courthouse, we do go into criminal cases as well as dependency court to support the families and children going through issues there. We visit the schools as part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program, and that is where the children read to the dogs or cat, we actually have a cat participating now which is really neat."

Bogey, a Boykin Spaniel, is one of the dogs involved in the program. About 2 and a half years ago, Bogey went through rehab therapy herself. Richard Gardner, Bogey’s owner and handler says, "Bogey and I are made for it, I'm a cancer survivor and Bogey, she had neurological issues, she went through therapy for 4 months, 3 or 4 days a week.” Hundreds of clinical trials show that petting an animal helps reduce stress and anxiety, helps reduce blood pressure and can assist in pain management. Tebo says "over time they look forward to the dogs and you can see there's like a little bond that starts and it helps."

Noel has had 11 surgeries so far and has one more to go. He says spending time with Bogey and the other therapy animals has helped him heal. He says "just as much as she likes the petting, I probably like to pet her just the same."

Do you think your pet might be a good fit for the program? It only takes a few steps to find out. First we have an initial screening, We basically have an overview of the temperament of the team, animal and handler which takes 10 minutes, it’s really quick. Then they sign up for classes. We have a one day workshop that's all people, all information that we just throw information at people, after that, 5 weeks of classes with your animal.

As for Bogey, I asked how long will she be working with patients in the pet therapy program? Gardner’s response while looking down at Bogey was “as long as both of us are healthy we'll be here, won't we baby."

For more information on the Animal Therapy Program, go to http://www.tmh.org/AnimalTherapy or contact:

Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy
Stephanie Perkins
Program Coordinator
(850) 431-5331

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