Something to Bark About

By: Martin Kinnunen

UPMC staff and their canines can apply to receive free training through the Animal Friends Therapets program thanks to a grant from The Beckwith Institute.UPMC staff and their canine companions can now apply to receive free training through the Animal Friends Therapets program thanks to a grant from The Beckwith Institute.

Eight UPMC employees and their dogs will be selected for the initial round of training. If the pilot is successful, the institute will fund future sessions for additional staff members at later dates.

After successfully completing a six-week training program and a certification test, each new Therapets team will volunteer at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, helping to brighten the lives of patients, their loved ones and staff.

“Pet therapy visits are certainly for patients, but the family members and staff are just as important,” said Melissa Saul, a clinical data scientist at UPMC Montefiore, whose dog, Blue Suede Shoes, is a certified Therapet. “It takes the atmosphere of the unit to a different level.”

UPMC Board President G. Nicholas Beckwith III and his wife, Dotty Beckwith, co-founders of The Beckwith Institute, suggested the Therapets training as a meaningful way to thank staff for their dedication while providing them with an opportunity to help others through pet therapy.

“I have seen the program change lives,” said Keith Zimmer, Magee’s volunteer coordinator, as he recounted how a recent visit from a Therapets team motivated a depressed oncology patient to get out of bed, something she refused to do for her care team.

Animal Friends’ existing relationship with UPMC continues to grow with the addition of the new volunteers. In 2016, Therapets teams helped 15,077 patients, families and staff in 11 UPMC facilities.

The Beckwith Institute annually provides grants to improve clinical outcomes by empowering both clinicians and patients to explore innovative ways of transforming health care.