Pet therapy expands at Cookeville Regional Medical Center

Clockwise from top left: Jim Mitchell, Charlene Gregory with Hershey, Sarah Watts with Buddy, Cheryl Polite, Bonnie Stoner with Sookie, MaryDell Sommers, Kimberly Roberts with Jophiel, CRMC Foundation Director John Bell, Iris Underwood with Piper, Charlie Mays, CRMC Chief Nursing Officer Scott Lethi, Nikki Panter with Sadie and Theresa Pugh-Godsey with Bella.

COOKEVILLE – The pet therapy program at Cookeville Regional Medical Center has expanded allowing therapy dogs and their handlers to now visit patients on additional floors.

“The Pet Therapy program began at Cookeville Regional in November of 2006 and has been warmly received,” said MaryDell Sommers, creator of the pet therapy program. “When we began 12 years ago, we visited patients at the Inpatient Rehabilitation Center and the Cancer Center. Now, we are able to see patients on the fourth, fifth and sixth floor of the North Tower as well as pediatric patients. It is wonderful.”

This program helps patients and staff experience the magic of pet therapy. The Mayo Clinic says that the dogs help to reduce stress and anxiety that accompanies hospital visits.

“We believe in the process and improving outcomes with the pet therapy program,” said Scott Lethi, Chief Nursing Officer at Cookeville Regional.  “It took a team of people to establish policies and guidelines. The program has been good for the patients.”

Sommers added, “No matter where we go, from walking through the lobby area to stopping in rooms, the reaction is always the same – smiles, so many smiles. We could fill pages with patient comments, but they can all be summed up by one patient who said, “This is the best!”

The program has grown from one dog to eight dogs and 12 handler participants. Now that the pet therapy program has expanded to additional floors, the therapy dogs and their handlers are required to have a pet buddy to go with them on their rounds.

“If there is no pet buddy, the therapy dog will not be able to visit patients that day. So, we need pet buddies,” said Sommers.

To volunteer as a pet buddy, contact MaryDell Sommers at 931-261-0011.

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