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Pet therapy goes virtual during COVID-19

A pilot project at The Ottawa Hospital, the Virtual Pet Therapy Program is where volunteers bring a tablet attached to a specially adapted IV pole into patient rooms so they can interact with therapy dogs, bringing comfort and joy to those who are isolated.
By: Heather Marie Connors
November 06, 2020
Photo provided.

Jette Haswell, a social worker at The Ottawa Hospital, matches patients with volunteers who bring tablets into their rooms so they can have a virtual visit with a pet. Most of the patients have some form of dementia or other cognitive impairment.

Although a much different interaction, feedback has been very positive.

“The fact that we’ve got such a positive response from patients just speaks to how powerful that bond is between animals and humans,” said volunteer participant Christine Phillips. “It’s not as good as an in-person visit, but in the absence of that opportunity, it’s really quite amazingly effective.”

Many hospital volunteers have had to stay home since the beginning of the pandemic. The virtual pet therapy program is a chance for some of them to return to providing compassionate care to patients, bringing a bit of joy to their day.

Virtual pet therapy is ideal for patients who are isolated for any reason, and for those who are allergic to dogs but still enjoy their company. The hope is that this pilot program, launched by Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Lariviere at The Ottawa Hospital General Campus, can be expanded to continue after the pandemic.

Source: The Ottawa Hospital

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