Furry Friends Aid in Rehabilitation Process

Essentia Health Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center is Using Therapy Dogs for Recovering Patients

DULUTH, Minn. – Injuries are often unpredictable. When a crash, stroke or any type of trauma to the body happens, it can be devastating to our mental health.

However, Essentia Health Medical Center in Duluth is looking to change that mindset, one pet at a time.

“They need to be healthy to do this job. I want them to be healthy and to live as long as possible,” said Ramona Larson, Volunteer at Essentia’s Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center.

Happiness is sometimes hard to find when our health starts to dwindle.

“Jazz is a certified therapy dog. Training is a never ending process for my therapy dogs,” said Larson.

For Larson, the past 20 years have consisted of many trips to the hospital.

“Jazz loves his work but it’s also gratifying to me when we see the results,” said Larson.

Every Wednesday the five-year-old Irish Setter and his mom, help in the healing process at Essentia Health Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center. On average, they see seven clients per visit.

“All of a sudden patients are standing longer or their moving better,” said Larson.

Patients, moving hands, arms and legs, something that wouldn’t be possible without hard work and mental dedication.

“You see fingers moving, or a hand moving, or they start to smile,” said Larson.

“Oh, I love my morning kisses,” said Melvin Bassi, a patient at Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center.

For this 71-year-old, a game of fetch wasn’t always east to play. Now, with the help of his furry friend Jazz, Mel is improving his health with each command he barks out.

“Reaching for the dog toy and standing for prolonged periods is helping Mel improve immensely,” said
Jeremy Trevis, Physical Therapist at Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center.

“Mel is working on his respiratory status, his balance, his strength. For him to stand up and let go of the walker is a lot of work for him,” said Trevis.

Experts say patients who’ve had strokes, brain injuries and trauma to the body truly do benefit from animals aiding in their rehabilitation.

“They look forward to that therapy session once a week,” said Larson.

Looking forward to learning with someone they feel comfortable around.

“As humans we tend to be a bit judgmental,” said Larson.

With a therapist conducting commands, Larson says it can often be easy for the patient to give up and lose control.

“With the animals, they start doing things on their own without being told by another human being,” said Larson.

“Animals know things that we don’t sometimes,” said Dr. Leah Witt, Psychologist at Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center.

For Witt, her work in psychology has proven these points to be true.

“There’s just something about the animals that really brings out the emotion in my patients first of all,” said Witt. “They can either talk to me about how they are doing, or take a break and talk to Maggie!”

Witt says her yellow lab Maggie, has helped hundreds of patients open up and become healthier. Maggie, a rescue from the Hibbing Animal Shelter, is passionate about helping her human companions.

“She’s definitely the star of the show! Patients really like to come and see me when I have Maggie with,” said Witt.

“Of all the things that I do with my dogs, I think this is probably one of the most important if not the most important and gratifying activities that we do,” said Larson.

Aside from the open pet policy at Essentia Health in Duluth, a spokesperson for St. Luke’s tells FOX 21 they too are animal friendly, allowing dogs in the hospital if they are accompanied, and patients to see animals upon request.



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