Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives
The strength of the human/animal bond has been well documented by publications of the Delta Society and its conferences and meetings. The role of animals to reduce stress and anxiety has been well accepted by healthcare providers, although the mechanisms are still debatable. The publications of CENSHARE at the University of Minnesota, The Pet Connection, and subsequent periodicals, laid to rest the early concerns of disease and damage that had been forewarned by those fearful of animals in healthcare facilities. For instance, in twelve months in 284 facilities in Minnesota, no disease was transmitted and only 19 minor mechanical injuries had occurred (scratches, chicken peck, tripped over leash, etc.). Even the injuries due to leash errors were in violation of the protocols that precluded patients from walking pets.
These same studies have alluded to better patient harmony and an improved staff attitude when animals are involved if the involvement was voluntary. In any apprehensive healthcare delivery situation, such as pediatric oncology, hospice, or geriatric nursing, forced involvement from healthcare providers causes negative responses. When the clinical expertise and animal interest is present with the healthcare providers, the patient care time often decreases due to the pets fulfilling the patient's need for caring interaction. Programs have been tailored to fit the facilities' needs and restrictions from pet visitation programs to a central facility location, to bedside visitation programs, to the in-room bonding program. While in-room boarding of patient pets increase, private room marketing success, human/companion animal bond programs have a far greater impact.
The mental anguish of a pet owner separated from their animals is significant. Most research has shown that three out of four pet owners believe that their pets are members of their families. Seventy-five percent is a significant proportion when we understand that over half of our population is pet owners. The stewardship felt by pet owners extends to the care and feeding of their "wards," especially during the acute care episode when preplanning had not occurred. Concern for the out-of-facility pet care for in-patients, with or without visitation programs, gives the perception of increased concerned care. This may be no more than a couple of simple questions on all admission forms to query on pet ownership and interim pet care provisions.
When a pet and owner are reunited after a protracted hospital stay, the tears of joy tell the significance of the bond. As we encounter the oncology ward that has walled contact out, whether due to death or sensory overload, we see the introduction of animals as a method to open the doors and windows to life. The nonjudgmental love by a ward mascot is often the difference between satisfied or dissatisfied working environments for staff members as well as the patients.
In today's healthcare delivery spectrum, the increase of competition causes the constant need to increase a facility's market share of patients. The competitive edge goes to the facility which meets the community's needs while minimizing additional costs in material or manpower resources. Contemporary pet programs like active pet selection assistance, pets by prescription, and behavior management do just that while supporting the healthcare reverence for life and quality of care programs.