Date: 3/27/2007

Certified Therapy Dog helps patients in Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapy at Community Hospital

MUNSTER - Dr. Doolittle isn’t the only person who talks to animals. Patients undergoing speech therapy at Community Hospital in Munster may have a chat with Titus, a Certified Therapy Dog.

Titus, a five-year-old, 150-pound Great Dane works hand in hand, or rather paw in hand, with Community Hospital’s Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapists. They, along with Titus, provide Animal Assisted Therapy to individuals with a variety of conditions. When Titus is working with patients, his owner Jill Armstrong, a Senior Physical Therapist and the coordinator of the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at Community Hospital, changes hats and becomes Titus’ volunteer handler.

“When most people say ‘Pet Therapy,’ they are referring to visitation programs, where dogs are allowed to visit patients in the hospital or residents in a skilled nursing facility,” Armstrong said. “Our program is unique in that licensed therapists utilize Certified Therapy Dogs as a dynamic modality - a tool to motivate their patients during goal-directed therapy sessions. It is a true Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program. There is a great deal of training required for both the dog and the dog’s owner before they can participate in AAT.”

According to Armstrong, there are numerous ways in which Titus can motivate patients who cannot be reached by traditional forms of therapy. In physical therapy, a patient may improve dynamic balance by walking with Titus.

“If we tell a patient who either isn’t motivated to walk, or has difficulty with ambulation, ‘Let’s take a walk with Titus,’ suddenly the patient is empowered because they’re getting to walk with the dog. The repetitive task of walking is more interesting, fun, challenging, and motivational with Titus.”

In Speech Therapy, Titus may motivate a child, who has difficulty pronouncing words, to annunciate his name and read to him. “Children will read to a dog because they feel a dog will not judge them if they get a word wrong,” Armstrong said. “Plus, it’s fun for kids to have a dog present during their therapy session.”

A patient who is recovering from a stroke may practice grasping and releasing by throwing a ball to Titus during an Occupational Therapy session. Brushing the dog to encourage active arm movement, or doing buttons and zippers on a special vest that Titus wears are also activities that can be enhanced by including the dog in therapy sessions.

Armstrong is looking for people in the community who either have a Certified Therapy Dog, or are interested in certifying their dogs as volunteer therapy animals. Therapy dogs must be at least one-year-old, and should be obedient, well-socialized and calm. All canine volunteers must pass a challenging obedience and temperament test and become certified before they can be considered for Community Hospital’s AAT program. Interested dog owners may call Therapy Services at 219-836-4527.

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