Pet Therapy - Furry Friends Ease Anxiety - PIH Health

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Published on December 18, 2014

Pet Therapy - Furry Friends Ease Anxiety

Dawson - pet therapy dog

PIH Health has some friendly and furry volunteers who help bring smiles to patients’ faces. They’re called pet therapy dogs, and currently, we have 11 teams of pet therapy dogs and their handlers.  Today, we are highlighting just one of those teams to give you an insight into the services they provide.

Meet Dawson and Melinda

Pet Therapy - Dawson and MelindaDawson is a nine-year-old Black Labrador who has been a therapy dog for five years.  Melinda and her husband raised him to be a guide dog for the blind but he had some hip problems that prevented him from continuing as a guide.  Fortunately for patients and staff at PIH Health Whittier Hospital, they visit for a few hours each week. Marilynn Jaramillo was happily surprised to see Dawson when she was walking in the hallway near her room. She invited Dawson and Melinda into her room for a little more visiting time.

Pet Therapy

Melinda says her favorite part of being a part of the therapy team is the happiness she sees in the patients and the visible benefits they experience from their visits.  They often visit the Emergency Department because people there can be nervous.  Sometimes a doctor will direct her to a child who is crying.  As soon as a child sees Dawson, he or she gets a big smile and calms down.  This helps the doctor do her job and helps the child have a better experience.

Laura Garcia, a nurse in the Emergency Department says, “One of the most touching things I remember was a visit to a nearly unresponsive elderly patient.  When Melinda asked the family if she could visit, they sadly said that their mother was not responding to anyone, but they could try.  So, Melinda and Dawson walked up to the patient and Melinda put the patient’s hand on Dawson’s forehead, he nudged her hand with his nose and the patient started to cry and pet him.  It was amazing.  Without words, Dawson seems to know exactly what a patient, a family member or even staff need.”

Getting Started

Melinda became involved with therapy dogs when she volunteered for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that provides highly-trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities.  After that, she and her husband started raising dogs for Guide Dogs of America. 

She walked into PIH Health Whittier Hospital 14 years ago with her first therapy dog, Champ.  They worked with the volunteer office to become the first pet therapy team the hospital had in many years.  The word spread through the volunteer community and now there are 11 teams.

Requirements of Therapy Dogs

Melinda is registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc., but there are hundreds of organizations that certify therapy dogs. They all have different evaluation and testing requirements, but most of them require the following for certification:

  • Minimum of 1 year old
  • Know and obey basic obedience commands
  • Must be friendly with people and other dogs
  • No barking
  • No jumping on people
  • Must have a calm temperament
  • Dogs must be groomed within 24 hours before each visit (grooming can include a wipe down with a dog towelette and a brushing)

If you are interested in volunteering at PIH Health Hospital in Downey or Whittier, visit us at

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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