Written by Nafisa Abdulla, Senior Consultant, Public Affairs, Communications & Public Affairs

At Fraser Health we provide the best medicine and care for our patients and support our employees every day, but sometimes the best solution is man’s best friend.

Photo (left to right): Lynn Gifford, clinical coordinator, forensic nursing and one of Koltan’s caretakers, Koltan, Nicole Schnapp, puppy raiser with Pacific Assistance Dog Society, Martha Cloutier, director, clinical operations, Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Who let the dogs out? Fraser Health did by introducing B.C.’s first trauma dog for victims of relationship violence, providing puppy days for staff wellness and creating a team of therapy dogs for patient visits at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Koltan, a 3-year-old yellow lab, is our first trauma dog and the first of his kind in a hospital in British Columbia. As a trauma dog Koltan provides support to patients in the Emergency Department and the Intensive Care Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital. He also supports those who have suffered from relationship violence, including sexual abuse. Involving Koltan as part of the treatment plan allows patients suffering from trauma to engage in therapeutic contact to help calm themselves and reduce their stress. Studies have shown that therapeutic contact with animals lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, improves cardiovascular health and slows breathing in those who are anxious.

Therapy dogs provide comfort to people who might be lonely or depressed to help motivate them into positive recovery. Koltan was trained through the Pacific Assistance Dog Society and since joining the hospital Koltan has already helped hundreds of people through brief encounters or scheduled interactions.

There are many positive benefits for both patients and employees so we are increasing pet therapy in our health care environments.

“Koltan is extremely empathetic. He loves touch and he loves people,” said Lynn Gifford, clinical coordinator, forensic nursing, and one of Koltan's caretakers. “I have seen him provide companionship to victims of relationship violence who benefit from this non-judgmental form of comfort.”

In addition to Koltan's support for trauma patients, Surrey Memorial Hospital is creating a Therapy Dog Team. Recreational therapists will consider pet therapy as part of their treatment for patients and then connect with the Therapy Dog Team if appropriate. The goal is to have a database of different dogs to meet the preferences of different patients. We hope to have the program operational in spring 2018.

We know employees can benefit from interactions with dogs as well. Surrey Memorial Hospital has a Puppy Love Day which is a day when BC Pets and Friends, a volunteer organization, brings puppies and dogs to the hospital and employees can interact with the animals.

“I come to work with my service dog McKenna and constantly employees are stopping me to pet him,” said ShelleyLynn Gardner, rehabilitation assistant at Surrey Memorial Hospital. “I support Puppy Love Day, where employees can come, meet therapy dogs and take in some natural positive energy that they can take with them through the day.”

Together our efforts to include dogs in health care provides patients and employees with physical and emotional comfort that only a man’s best friend can provide.

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