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Spanish Hospital Introduces Therapy Dogs to Lift Spirits of ICU Patients

Therapy Dogs

Joel Bueno, a 34-year-old patient confined to the intensive care unit of Hospital del Mar in Barcelona due to a blood clot, was moved to tears when therapy dogs Vida and Lu entered his room.

For Bueno, the encounter was reminiscent of the unconditional love waiting for him at home from his own dog. Overwhelmed with joy, he expressed to Reuters how significant the affection from the dogs was during his challenging time in the ICU.

“It’s great to have someone that loves you more than anything else in the world,” he said with a smile, acknowledging the dogs’ unwavering loyalty and love.

The therapy dogs’ visit is part of an innovative trial initiated by Hospital del Mar in collaboration with the Affinity Foundation, a group dedicated to integrating pet therapy into health care settings.

The primary goal of this program is to enhance the emotional well-being of patients enduring the rigors of intensive care treatment. The program carefully schedules two visits per week for each participating patient, with each session lasting between 15 to 20 minutes.

Lucia Picazo, an ICU doctor involved in the program, noted the positive impact observed in patients following the therapy dog visits. “For now it’s just a perception, but it seems to us that there’s a benefit for patients,” she remarked.

To quantify the benefits scientifically, the project includes the collection and analysis of saliva samples from patients before and after the therapy sessions.

These samples are tested for stress indicators such as cortisol and markers of well-being like oxytocin and serotonin, aiming to provide concrete evidence of the therapy’s effectiveness.

The benefits of this initiative extend beyond the patients themselves. Staff members within the emergency ward have also reported positive experiences. Many have found joy and relief in interacting with the therapy dogs, adding a layer of comfort to the often stressful hospital environment.

Maribel Vida, who leads the animal therapy projects for Affinity, highlighted how the presence of the dogs not only soothes the patients but also uplifts the spirits of the healthcare workers.

For patients like Bueno, the very prospect of a visit from the therapy dogs serves as a significant morale booster. His firsthand experience underscores the potential therapeutic benefits such visits can offer to those facing severe health crises.

As the trial progresses, it hopes to demonstrate with scientific backing the profound impact that animal-assisted therapy can have on patient recovery and well-being in the ICU setting.

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