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Pet Therapy Can Be the Best Medicine for Patients in Pain : Medicine: Recovery center at Grossmont Hospital gets welcome Christmas visit from furry creatures.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pets are usually banned from entering hospitals, but Wednesday a couple of dogs, a cat, two guinea pigs and a rabbit were allowed into Grossmont Hospital to cheer up a special group of patients.

The pets were part of a program developed by the San Diego Humane Society, which sends small animals to hospitals, convalescent homes, youth centers and schools to help in pet-assisted therapy.

The animals arrived Wednesday morning at the Grossmont Hospital therapeutic recovery center in La Mesa wearing Santa Claus attire, which brought sighs and laughter from the wheelchair-bound patients.

The 20 patients who waited for the pets to arrive suffer from various maladies. Most of their waking hours are spent in pain, with little relief, said hospital officials.

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One of the hospital therapists said it was good to see her patients smiling as they stroked the pets.

“Bella Tibbetts is finally smiling,” said hospital therapist Kathy Krohn. “She is always in so much pain, but right now she doesn’t seem to be thinking about it.”

Others such as Jack Bromley, who recently suffered a stroke, has spent the last month at the hospital trying to recuperate. He said it was nice to spend a morning holding the small, furry pets. He seemed especially attached to a cat named K.C. drowsing on his lap.

K.C. and all the other animals at the hospital had been turned over by their owners to the Humane Society, where they were trained to do tricks and allow people to touch them.

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Bobbi Atwater, who trained dogs Sandy and Amy, and K.C. the cat, is a volunteer for the Humane Society and travels throughout the county with her pets. The pet tricks are simple, such as the dogs nodding their heads when she asks them if they have been good this Christmas or praying on a chair when she tells them to show what they do before they go to bed.

She makes up to three stops a day.

“We estimated we visit about 10,000 patients a year,” Atwater said. “We probably make at least 400 stops.”

The pet-assisted therapy program is nearly 20 years old and is run by volunteers, said Humane Society spokesman Larry Boersma.

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“They visit hospitals and convalescent homes spreading goodwill and love,” Boersma said. “They are very popular.”

Karen Hamilton, spokeswoman for Grossmont Hospital, said the pet-assistance therapy has been so successful the last five years the hospital has developed its own version and has five dogs who visit wards.

“Whenever the pets visit, it’s been found that the patients blood pressure goes down,” Hamilton said. “They are such a big part of our hospital that we have given them their own badges with their pictures on them.”


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