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Therapy Dogs Are Helping Staff Build Resiliency


Highlights | A pawsitive impact

  • Therapy dogs reduce stress, lower blood pressure and boost oxytocin. 
  • They also can help build resiliency.
  • Harborview Medical Center’s Resiliency Committee has added pet therapy to their well-being and support toolkit. 

As we are immersed into the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state’s hospitals are at or near maximum capacity, the intensity of working in healthcare during a pandemic continues. 

Enter: therapy dogs. They’re adorable, stress reducingblood pressure loweringoxytocin boosting four-legged resilience builders.

This summer, Harborview Medical Center’s Resiliency Committee has been using pet therapy so employees can soak up the benefits that a tail wag can provide.

“Staff responded so positively to the experience,” says Kelly Paananen, ARNP, associate CNO and director of the Resiliency Committee at Harborview. “They were getting down on the floor and petting and loving on the dogs who were so calm and wonderful. It was a transformative experience to be part of.”

The first therapy dog visit in July had five dogs from Therapy Dogs International and hundreds of Harborview employees who visited them. Paananen’s goal, after seeing how well the first visit went, is to bring the dogs back as often as they and their handlers are available. Paananen plans to mix up the hours and hospital areas the dogs visit so that as many employees as possible get a chance to participate. 

Therapy dogs (from left to right) Henry, Moka, Ellie, Mac and Kona with their handlers.

Building resiliency during COVID-19

“I think that in respect to COVID-19, everyone is really tired,” says Paananen. “The system and hospitals have been extremely busy and there are so many stressors right now.” 

The Resiliency Committee and hospital teams lost many of the activities they used to do. Therapy dogs may not replace these much-missed activities, like potlucks, but it’s an activity that brings comfort and joy to staff members, says Paananen.

In Paananen’s opinion, resiliency is an important aspect of our overall health. It’s something she has focused on for herself and her team throughout the pandemic.

“For me, focusing on keeping an exercise routine, enjoying time with my friends and family in safe ways and being on the Resiliency Committee and finding things that have a real positive impact on staff, is what’s been getting me through,” she says. 

Pawparazzi

Get to know some of our furry friends and find out what they love to do when they’re not on the clock. If you work at Harborview, you may see them in a breakroom or on a floor near you.

Ellie, Dalmatian

Loves: pizza, potato chips, playing ball and chasing squirrels.

Henry, Golden Retriever

Loves: turning frowns into smiles, watermelon, bananas, broccoli, pumpkin and peanut butter treats, hiking and snoozing in the sun. 

Kona, Keeshond

Loves: dog shows (he holds a grand championship title), hiking, kayaking (yes, he has his own kayak), snowshoeing, duck bites, rabbit nibbles and bully sticks.

Resiliency resources

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