Pet Therapy Program
Pet Therapy Program

Left to Right: Sheila Martin with Pumpkin and Ginger, Maureen Sparks with Leah, Martha Lewis with Abby and Carolyn Bryant with Carma

“This hospital is going to the dogs!” one of the pet therapy handlers joked as we entered the Ronald McDonald House Charities® Wichita Family Room inside of Wesley Medical Center.  Five dogs and four women crowded into the living room section of the Family Room. Abby, Leah, Carma, Ginger and Pumpkin sat patiently while their handlers talked. The Family Room provided a relaxed atmosphere for families to see the dogs at their leisure.


The Pet Therapy Program at Wesley Medical Center began two years ago in June after working for over ten years to get the program implemented and running in the hospital. Wesley’s website says “Hospitals sometimes use pet therapy, also called animal-assisted therapy, to help reduce patient stress, make them feel more comfortable, and improve mood. Research has shown that pet therapy can improve emotional well-being in patients coping with a variety of conditions, and may even improve mobility, motor skills, and independence of those with disabilities.”


In pet therapy, volunteers and their pets that have completed training programs are brought to the patient's bedside, with the doctor and patient's consent. The dogs have to be at least a year old to participate in the program and have gone through obedience school.  They are then put through vigorous basic and advanced therapy training and are required to pass a final test before they are given their certification.  This certification needs to be renewed every single year.


13 dogs in total are involved in the Pet Therapy Program and the dogs range from a Collie, a Shepherd Mix, a Papillion, a Pomeranian, a Poodle, a Rottweiler, Grey Hounds, Pyrenees, and Golden Retrievers.


A group of women volunteer their time every Wednesday evening and Friday afternoon to visit the patients in the pediatrics unit at Wesley. A Child Life Specialist from Wesley oversees each time the volunteers visit. The dogs congregate in a large playroom for all of the mobile patients to come and visit.  Faces light up as the dogs walk into the room with their handlers.  Parents and children alike play and pet the dogs during the visit and smiles are widespread as children enjoyed seeing the dogs.


“People love having the dogs come to them in the hospital. We are always very well received,” said Maureen Sparks, one of the handlers.


After this visit ended, the dogs are taken into the patient’s rooms who are confined to the hospital beds. The dogs are trained to put their paws up on the bed so that the sick or injured child is able to pet and fully see the animal. The dogs make visits with patients inside Pediatrics for about an hour and a half and then head to the Ronald McDonald Family Room®.