PAWS Uses Pets to Heal

Hurricane Katrina demonstrated quite dramatically that some people will not even move out of harm's way if it means leaving their pets behind. Such is the bond between people and their pets. As Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports a local non-profit and a Medical Center hospital are using that bond as a healing agent.

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The organization is PAWS. It's been around for about four years and began when co-founder Donna Dishman got a dog that had to be given up because its owner was too ill to care for it.

"I started to realize then that it was very sad that someone has to give up their dog at a time when they need it the most."

That concern lead to PAWS, which brings chronically and terminally ill people together with their pets. Dishman says PAWS works with hospices, and social workers and a hospital.

"We have a pet visitation policy in place at Methodist Hospital, which is one of the first in the country where it's an official policy. We take pets to their owners any where in Methodist hospital. Most of out visits are in the CCU area."

The Methodist Hospital's Associate Chief of Nursing is sold on PAWS.

"I think it's wonderfully successful."

Patricia Lewis says patients can change dramatically when they get to see their pets.

"I'll never forget the first one we had. This woman was hardly ever awake, and she saw her dog, and her cheeks pinked up, she wanted her hair combed, she wanted to put on a little make-up. It was like night and day, in the blink of an eye when she saw her pet. She talked and she hadn't been talking at all, it was wonderful."

Bari Bodden is a patient at Methodist and says there's nothing like a visit from her 8-year-old Scottish terrier Kirby.

"Oh, It's the greatest, 'cause, after all he is the only family I have here...it's Kirby and me and that's it...so to be separated from him because....I've had him since he was, oh, maybe six-weeks old...and this is the first time we've been separated and I'm in my third month of being in the hospital and I don't know when I'm going to get out."

Ms Bodden says when Kirby shows up there is lots of wagging tail, doggie kisses and love.

"He hasn't forgotten me, so, you know, that's the main thing. He's thrilled to see me and I can tell you I am...he just raises my spirits tremendously."

When the hospital discovers a long term patient has a close relationship with a pet, PAWS is contacted and PAWS volunteers make sure the pet is clean, has all its shots and then pick-up and deliver it.

PAWS Donna Dishman says for patients recuperating at home or for incapacitated elderly people PAWS also provides in-home help with caring for a pet. She says being a non-profit PAWS survives on donations and volunteers. You'll find a link to the PAWS web site at kuhf.org.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...