Facility dogs Kya and Bayley make a difference in rehabilitation by lifting people’s moods.
During extended hospital stays, people often miss their pets and get lonely. Animals can provide physical comfort and emotional support in times of stress. MossRehab helps fill the void and enliven people during rehab with canine-assisted therapy.
For the past year, resident facility dogs Kya and Bayley have been taking an active role in therapy sessions at the Elkins Park campus. Trained to work with people on different therapeutic activities, such as walking, the facility dogs add an element of fun that engages them in rehab tasks while improving their mood.
“While their primary role is working with people in therapeutic activities, the facility dogs help lift the spirits of individuals and motivate them to better participate in therapy,” notes Michael Bane, CTRS, who works on the spinal cord injury unit and serves as Kya’s handler. “They also help with pain management as a distraction in doing something fun.”
Both Kya, a purebred yellow lab, and Bayley, a golden retriever lab mix, received nine months of training through Canine Companions, a nationwide non-profit organization that raises and trains canines to become “service” or “facility dogs.” Both Kya and Bayley are considered facility dogs because they work in a healthcare setting with different people.
“Facility dogs are often confused with service dogs. Both are trained to do different tasks like opening and closing doors or turning lights off and on. But a facility dog works with a handler in a professional working environment, such as a healthcare facility, and a service dog supports an individual to reduce caregiver burden and increase their independence,” explains Bane. “Then, there are therapy dogs that provide emotional support and companionship.”
Bane, along with Allison Hendrix, OTR/L, who works as an occupational therapist in the stroke unit and is the handler for Bayley, attended formal training to work with their canines. During training, they learned how to use commands and handle them in a therapeutic setting. At the end of the training, both brought their dogs back to their homes to start working at MossRehab.
“I heard stories about how the facility dog that previously worked at Moss made an impact on staff and people,” says Bane. “I’ve always been a dog person and was happy to go through the process to bring Kya into MossRehab.”
Helping People with Different Needs
The facility dogs are assigned to work with different people receiving care in the hospital. Bayley sees those in the stroke and traumatic brain injury units and Kya works in the spinal cord injury unit and the comprehensive rehab unit. Clinicians working with them can request assistance from the facility dogs during therapy sessions. The handlers are present at all therapy sessions, directing the dogs through activities while working alongside clinicians.
“When we first started, we let the dogs get acclimated to certain areas of the hospital. So, Kya only worked in the spinal cord injury unit for the first month and Bayley just saw people who experienced a
stroke,” notes Bane. “Now that they are more comfortable, we’ve expanded them to work on other units, such as amputation.”
While physical, speech and occupational therapists make the most requests for canine-assisted therapy, the handlers are starting to get inquiries from neuropsychologists. “Physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and even neuropsychologists book sessions with Bayley and Kya to work with in people during therapy sessions,” explains Hendrix. “The dogs know over 40 commands and can accomplish different tasks that help with motivation.”
For example, for someone doing a physical therapy activity focused on improving balance, standing, and walking, they might play a scavenger hunt game with Bayley placing kibble under plastic cones around a room. As Bayley retrieves a cone and brings it to the person, she is rewarded with the treat. During the session, the person practices walking, reaching, and balancing while having fun playing with Bayley.
“Tug of war is another activity that helps work on balance. During the activity, Bayley lightly tugs on a strap while someone holds the other end,” says Hendrix. “I had a person who wanted to walk their dog but was afraid because their pet pulls on the leash. Bayley and I worked with the patient and her physical therapist to simulate leash-pulling around the hospital and outside. The patient was cleared by her physical therapist to walk her dog independently after this session.”
Bane noted that Kya is trained to play cards with people during recreational therapy. “Kya can pick cards that I choose from a cardholder and drop them on the right spot on the table,” explains Bane. “She’s pretty lucky and beats me and the other people more often than not.”
Working with Patient Groups
In addition to working with people one-on-one, Bayley participates in groups led by speech therapists in the stroke unit. “They verbally give different commands that help them work on improving their clarity of speech,” says Hendrix. “People also read short stories to Bayley that help with their memory and retention.” Another group led by a recreational therapist in the brain injury unit works on leisure and social activities, engagement, and social participation. Hendrix also leads an occupational therapy-based group that focuses on improving patients’ upper extremity function post stroke.
Bane noted that a neuropsychologist for the spinal cord injury program has a support group every week that Kya occasionally attends if everyone is approved to interact with the dogs. “I’ll bring Kya in during their support group session and she can provide emotional support for anyone who gets upset,” says Bane.
In addition to making therapy more fun and engaging, the facility dogs can dramatically change a person’s mental state. “At the beginning of her career, Bayley worked with someone who was deaf and blind and very frustrated because he had difficulty expressing himself,” says Hendrix. “When Bayley was present during his therapy, he became a different person who calmed down and was able to engage in activities. It was pretty incredible.”
Individuals must be cleared before working with the facility dogs. While therapists determine if a person is interested in working with a dog and how they might work together in therapy, physicians provide medical approval to ensure individuals don’t have allergies or other conditions that can pose a problem.
People also have the opportunity to meet the dogs to determine if they would like to work with them. “Every Wednesday morning for an hour, we have office hours where people can meet with Kya with a clinician for about five minutes to see how they interact with each other,” says Bane. “From this meeting, therapists can see which individuals can benefit from working with her.”
Bane noted that she had a person that hadn't seen her dog in a few weeks. When introduced to Kya, she immediately started crying and was grateful for the opportunity to just see and pet a dog. “From the interaction, we scheduled a physical therapy session with her and Kya to work on her goals,” says Bane. “Kya will enhance the therapy session on both a mental and emotional level.”
Some people may see a facility dog only once in their rehab, while others benefit from seeing them more frequently. “I had one person who was scheduled with Bayley every day because it made such a huge difference in his participation in therapy,” notes Hendrix. “Interacting with her decreased his stress so he could do more in therapy.”
Dogs Have Time to Relax
Kya and Bayley have dedicated office space at Moss, with their own kennels. The dogs only work with a few people throughout the day, and take breaks and naps in between sessions in their crates or a dog bed. Schedules can vary each day based on clinician requests.
The dogs live at the handler’s house where they are treated as regular dogs. “Bayley walks with me, plays fetch and hangs out with other dogs at night and during the weekends,” says Hendrix. “I don’t drill commands during her time off and let her relax and decompress. She has a full life.”
Bane notes that Kya is with him 24/7. “As soon as we get home, Kya plays with my kids and other dog and sleeps on the couch,” he says.
Boost Patient and Staff Morale
Kya and Bayley also boost morale among staff when working in their units. “People get happy just from hearing a collar jangle,” says Hendrix. “We’ve been doing periodic ‘yappy hours’ during lunch breaks so nurses, doctors, service staff, and clinicians can greet or play with Kya and Bayley in one of the gyms or outside. It helps staff cope better in a stressful environment.”
The handlers have seen the difference that canine-assisted therapy has on a person’s behavior. “There is more engagement and enjoyment when people work with the dogs,” says Banes. Hendrix notes that they are tracking data on the success of the program and have received positive comments from patients and their families.
“Kya and Bayley improve the patient experience,” notes Hendrix. “Everyone loves it and families are happy to hear that their loved ones had a chance to work with dogs in this setting. The staff loves it as well. We joke that the facility dogs serve as an employee retention program.”
Learn more about Canine-Assisted Therapy at MossRehab.
Check out the different rehabilitation services offered at MossRehab Elkins Park.
ABOUT CANINE COMPANIONS
Canine companions is a non-profit that provides highly trained assistance and facility dogs and on-going support, free of charge, to enhance independence for people with disabilities. Facility dogs are expertly trained dogs that partner with a facilitator working in healthcare, visitation, or education setting. Learn more at www.canine.org.