Therapy Dog Brings Joy to Hospital Patients, One Wag at a Time

A friendly therapy dog provides emotional support to patients at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Learn more about the animal’s special role in the healing process.

7:00 AM

Author | Jane Racey Gleeson

Three days a week, Bree happily makes the rounds.

The energetic, 6-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi is a frequent sight at Michigan Medicine. Her proud owner, Howard Rush, accompanies the four-legged visitor.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

The duo are a part of Therapaws of Michigan Inc., a canine-assisted therapy program dedicated to promoting the human-animal bond.

That special connection has proved to be good medicine for patients. Since 1988, Therapaws volunteers and their canines have brought smiles and companionship to patients at Michigan Medicine facilities during scheduled visits.

Together, Rush and Bree visit University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, units 7A and 7B in the main hospital and the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Traveling from room to room, they spend time with 10 to 15 patients during each visit.

For Rush, a retired U-M Medical School faculty member and veterinarian, the decision to volunteer his time, and that of his beloved Bree, was an easy one.

"After retiring, I considered volunteer options within the medical environment, and this seemed like a natural fit," he says, describing his pet as a "calm, friendly dog who loves to be around people."

Sharing the love

Rush sees the impact firsthand with every visit.

"The human-animal bond has a significant and well-documented impact on our emotions and our health," he says. "It's not uncommon for the children or grandchildren of a patient to be in the room when I arrive with Bree."

SEE ALSO: 6 Cool Things to Know About Mott's Child and Family Life Team

Children often are the first to greet the corgi, who Rush says "is very receptive to them and willingly accepts their attention."

Many patients are enthusiastic, particularly those who have dogs or cats at home and miss their pets. And, because dogs weighing less than 40 pounds are allowed in hospital beds, patients are thrilled to learn that Bree can snuggle up with them.

The therapeutic visits are rewarding for everyone involved.

"I try to get patients to tell me about their pets, past and present," says Rush. "We'll chat about different breeds and exchange stories. They find it to be a welcome distraction from the hospital environment and a great stress reliever."

Healing power

According to the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, positive human-animal interaction has plenty of benefits.

It has been shown to influence blood pressure, heart rate and hormones correlated with well-being, including cortisol, oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine. 

On a deeper level, therapy dogs "take in everyone's anxiety and emotions and really seem to calm people. It's one step closer to home," says the Rev. Lindsay Bona, manager of the Spiritual Care Department at Michigan Medicine.

"Nobody else gives you that unconditional love."

Still, the animal has incentives. At the end of each visit, Bree is rewarded with a few biscuits for a job well done, followed by a well-deserved nap when she gets home.

Photos by Leisa Thompson

More Articles About: Health Management Health Care Quality CS Mott Children's Hospital Frankel Cardiovascular Center Hospitals & Centers
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories Michigan health 2020 image
Health Lab
The Michigan Health Blog’s 20 for 2020
The most read stories of 2019 on the Michigan Health blog.
vines all over growing out of purple woman drawing pink background calendar up and pad on right. calendar says the normal menstrual cycle typically lasts for less than 7 days and occurs every 21 to 35 days. the average woman loses about 2-3 tablespoons of blood during her period. pad says the typical cost the menstrual hygiene products is $7 to $10 per month, which adds up to between $3,360 and $4,800 over the course of a life time
Health Lab
Addressing disparities in abnormal menstrual bleeding and anemia
A large grant for Michigan Medicine will launch important research to improve the screening and treatment for a gynecologic disorder that disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic populations
Health Lab
Building a sustainable kidney transplant program in Rwanda
A Michigan Medicine surgeon builds a sustainable kidney transplant program in Rwanda.
Health Lab Podcast in brackets with a background with a dark blue translucent layers over cells
Health Lab Podcast
Presenting: The Fundamentals
Today on Health Lab, we are sharing an episode of The Fundamentals, another podcast from the Michigan Medicine Podcast Network that just launched its second season earlier this month. On this episode of The Fundamentals: "Cannabis and psychedelics: stigmatized substances or powerful therapeutics?" Dr. Kevin Boehnke talks about cannabis, psychedelics, and the increasing body of evidence for their legitimization as therapeutics.
Dinero is back to being an active toddler following a kidney transplant
Health Lab
Formula prescription helps 2-year-old receive kidney transplant
Dinero's pediatric nephrology team developed a tailored formula to address his mineral deficiencies due to his chronic kidney disease, maintain nutritional health and avoid dialysis.
Health Lab
How to protect your eyes during the total solar eclipse
A Michigan Medicine ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon shares advice for viewing the total solar eclipse safely, including what to look for in eye protection.