Visiting Dogs Deliver Smiles, Ease Stress

Barb Hebel and Pip | Doylestown Health

The beloved pups from Doylestown Health's Animal-Assisted Activity program have eased back to in-person visits after a long hiatus due to COVID-19.

“We’re thrilled to have our animal-assisted activity dogs and their wonderful, volunteer handlers back with us,” says Barb Hebel, vice president of Human Resources at Doylestown Health and one of the program’s biggest fans. “The visits brighten the day for patients and during the pandemic have played an especially important role in boosting morale.”

“Our goal is to spread joy, and visits from the dogs also provide stress relief and a temporary distraction from the challenges of the day,” says Joyce Rivas, advisory chair of the Doylestown Health Animal-Assisted Activity team, who was among the first handlers to return with Pip, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Happy to be Back

“During our time away from Doylestown Hospital, there was a big void,” says Joyce. “Pip and I enjoy seeing the people and, for PIP, this is her job,” says Joyce. “We’re thrilled to be back to visiting patients and appreciate the hospital allowing us to bring a little bit of joy to associates, nurses and other providers to counterbalance the stress and responsibility they shoulder every day.”

Safety First!

“Safety is always paramount,” says Joyce, who worked with Doylestown Health’s infection control team to review CDC guidelines and create a safety policy with robust precautions.

“We provide hand sanitizer both before and after each interaction and follow masking requirements,” she says, noting that in-person visits are limited to specific areas of the hospital at this time.

Making the Most of the Down Time

“Pip had many interactions with people before the pandemic, but there was a period of time when we couldn’t even interact with people in our neighborhood. That was hard for her,” says Joyce. “We filled our time working on tricks and obedience training. Now, Pip is 4 years old and coming back a stronger therapy dog.”

Training the Handlers of the Future

In addition to their hospital visits, Joyce and Pip have been mentoring people interested in joining the pet therapy team. “It’s important to see what is required before applying to join a team. We interact with a fragile group of people and you need to have extreme control with your dog,” explains Joyce, noting that there is a lot of “rolling temptation” in a hospital with food carts, gurneys and other equipment. A dog needs to be able to navigate without being rattled and open to meeting a variety of people. “Therapy dogs need to maintain their composure even if they hear a loud noise or if someone grabs them roughly,” notes Joyce.

A Careful Process

Handlers who share their time, talent and their best friend are Doylestown Health volunteers who are registered animal therapy handlers. All dogs and handlers participate in thorough orientation and training, obtain security clearances and share veterinary records. Handlers groom their dogs prior to each visit.

Contact the Volunteer Office

For information about volunteering in the Animal Assisted Activity program call Doylestown Health’s Volunteer Office at 215.345.2204.


About Doylestown Health and Doylestown Hospital

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health, has 271 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.

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