The Power of Pet Therapy: Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

For one hospital CEO, allowing animals to interact with patients is a no-brainer.

It didn’t take much convincing for Heather Dexter to allow Kodi and Ranger to wag their tails and give out kisses at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.

Kodi and Ranger may not be doctors, but Dexter, the hospital’s CEO, experienced the power of pet therapy when her younger brother, Patrick, suffered a traumatic brain injury after a serious car accident.

Dexter remembers seeing a therapy dog visit Patrick while he was in a coma. After that visit, Dexter says, Patrick became more aware of his surroundings. Shockingly, even his vital signs improved. That experience made it an easy decision to bring pets to Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital to interact with patients.

"There is a component of care that is clinical, but there is a part of care that is spiritual and emotional. By bringing in programs such as pet therapy, we can care for the whole person: mind, body and spirit.”

Heather Dexter

CEO, Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital

And Dexter isn’t just speaking from experience. Studies show that therapy dogs not only cheer patients up during a difficult time, but also provide a variety of other health benefits like improving cognitive, memory, and speech function.

So for the past five years, therapy dogs have visited patients at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital as part of a nonprofit organization called Happy Tails Pet Therapy. Happy Tails consists of over 350 volunteers who bring pets to more than 125 health care facilities, social agencies, and special needs programs throughout the Atlanta area.

Read more about Kodi and Ranger and the benefits of pet therapy in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.