Fur Ball Therapy: Nurses Need it Too

Two words: animal therapy. Enough said. These wonderful bundles of joy come into our workplaces in their volunteer vests and bring warmth in the form of a fur buddy. Nurses benefit just as much as patients with this addition to the work week. But why do these wonderful asides hold so much power for us?

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  • Specializes in Med/Surg, Onc., Palliative/Hospice, CPU. Has 3 years experience.

For many people animals are an extension of their being. There is an unspoken understanding between humans and animals, and the bonds that can be formed are beyond powerful. I myself have found beautiful rewarding relationships with animals of all kinds, but most importantly, dogs. These fur babies have a pull on my soul that is inexplicable and life-changing. I know that I am not the only one in this boat.

Lately in the healthcare community there has been a great turn toward volunteers of both the human and fur ball kind. Prior to my nursing career I worked on a project in the Southwest Virginia mountains with children from difficult living situations (abuse, neglect, lack of food, etc). Some of the cases were so horrific, we were afraid that reaching the children would be a difficult (if not impossible) task.

While I headed up creative arts therapy sessions, my boss headed up animal therapy. In a matter of a week I saw the children blossom, open up, laugh, smile and grow. To see such positive growth was certainly a culmination of all the therapies combined (not to mention the openness of these amazing children), but there was something about the animal bonds that brought a calmness to the group. In that calm, the healing really seemed to take root.

I've seen this sort of power in the hospital. My first nursing position was on a very busy medical/surgical/oncology/palliative-hospice unit. While I saw everyone (including the staff) benefit from animal visits, it was the oncology patients, the palliative/hospice patients and the nurses that seemed to thrive the most (from my perspective).

I will never forget the lessons I learned while talking to my patients suffering from inoperable and untreatable cancers that continually ravaged their bodies. Nor will I ever forget the looks on my patient's faces when the two bushy tails of Riley and Ty (two perfect golden retrievers) waltzed into rooms with what seemed like massive grins on their whiskered faces. Power. Joy. Peacefulness. It's entirely Earth shattering to watch elation on someone's face when hours before there were tears and fears of hopelessness. Though the sweetness of pups in the room took away the pain for a short while, it was worth every minute thanking the volunteer (owner and animal) for bringing such unbridled warmth to a place that can feel so sterile and cold.

As the nurses on the unit found happiness in watching our patients thrive with doggy cuddles and attention, our hearts were just as lifted with a hug and a sloppy smooch from those loving therapy pups. Our spirits (as nurses) can become heavy with the stressors of work, issues within the workplace, communicating with difficult families (or truly difficult family situations), grief from the deaths of patients, as well as heartache from home that is too hard to shake once you've clocked in. (We're human, it's not uncommon).

Recently, while working in critical care, I met our new therapy animals in the afternoon of a day that was beyond control (and drowning in what felt like controlled chaos). When I looked up after rounding on my nurses as charge, I saw a red vest coming down the hall and heard that familiar sound of metal on metal. Dog tags. I felt a burning behind my eyes because I knew then that I could take a minute or two with these two labs and just give and accept love for that perfect moment of time. The recharging and regrouping I received from the interaction was electric. My work family and I found our smiles again and were able to close out the shift with a powerful bang! Just a few minutes rejuvenated us enough to find that last bit of willpower to give our patients our all.

The amazing thing is that it's not just dogs that are rocking the World of volunteering in healthcare. Cats, ponies, pigs and more are gracing the halls of health care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, cancer treatment centers, and extended care centers. The process to become a therapy animal is specific and protected with rigid rules and regulations (for a good reason). What I can say is that I'm thankful for the work put into this project and those willing to give their time to bless us with their kindness as well as willingness to share their loving critters. Across the United States, therapy classes and groups as well as health care facilities are getting a much needed boost from fun-loving animals that know nothing more than to share affection, give understanding and throw judgement out of the window. If that's not perfection, I'm not sure what is.

Thank you to all volunteers for what you do. We'd be lost without you!

Jacquie loves writing about experiences of her own (as well as stories belonging to fellow nurses) with a dose of artistic flair and hyperbole. Happy reading! Joined: Aug '14; Posts: 51; Likes: 416

21 Articles   51 Posts

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sunflowerr

28 Posts

I love that no matter what kind of day I've had, my dog will greet me at the door, tail wagging and jumping up. He always manages to put a smile on my face. :inlove:

I support animal therapy 100% and I'm glad it's becoming more popular.

Nurse tobe

12 Posts

I love that no matter what kind of day I've had, my dog will greet me at the door, tail wagging and jumping up. He always manages to put a smile on my face. :inlove:

I support animal therapy 100% and I'm glad it's becoming more popular.

I totally agree. There is nothing like having that unconditional love and affection.

Altra, BSN, RN

6,255 Posts

Specializes in Emergency & Trauma/Adult ICU.

When scanning quickly, I read the title as Full Bar Therapy. Is that bad? :cool:

When scanning quickly, I read the title as Full Bar Therapy. Is that bad? :cool:

No, no, that is another form of therapy. My favorite kind.

Has 3 years experience.

If I could have my dog at work with me, especially Saturday and Sunday when I'm alone, I would be so much happier. I'll even lend him to the anesthesiologists and the CRNAs so that they have some stress relief.

Jacqueline.Damm

21 Articles; 51 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Onc., Palliative/Hospice, CPU. Has 3 years experience.
When scanning quickly, I read the title as Full Bar Therapy. Is that bad? :cool:

I am laughing so hard right now! ; ) I had so many ideas for the title, but changed it because I'm a brain that reads other things sometimes. This one definitely made me smile!

djh123

1 Article; 1,101 Posts

Specializes in LTC, Rehab. Has 5 years experience.

Amen - I like 'my' 2 cats at work ... one can be a pain, but it's his own little personality (hmm, just like people, eh?).

Specializes in Pediatrics.
If I could have my dog at work with me' date=' especially Saturday and Sunday when I'm alone, I would be so much happier. I'll even lend him to the anesthesiologists and the CRNAs so that they have some stress relief.[/quote']

Yes! Many evenings when I am leaving for work and feeling stressed about the day ahead, I wish fervently I could bring a certain one of my dogs with me. He loves people, is very affectionate, and always calms me down just by snuggling up next to me and letting me pet him. If I could get a "dog break" a few times a shift, I think I'd be so much less stressed some days, and I know he'd love the other nurses and staff too, and make their days happier.

Thanks OP for this beautiful article.