For one Mesa resident, humankindness comes with eight legs and two wagging tails. Laura Ibsen’s dogs, Patches and Scooter, are two of 45 star canine volunteers in the East Valley’s largest hospital-based pet therapy program, Dignity Health’s Paws for Patients.
Ibsen knows firsthand the hardships associated with a hospital stay and quickly learned the critical benefits of a dog’s unconditional love.
“I was diagnosed with lupus and scleroderma as a child and have been hospitalized more than 80 times in my life,” Ibsen, 39, said. “When I was sick, my dog always made me feel better. I was a kid then, and didn’t quite understand what was happening. I just knew I felt better when my dog was around.”
Then in college, watching her friend struggle with cancer provided definitive proof that dogs make a difference in patient care. Every time she brought her dog to visit, Ibsen saw a newfound peace in her friend’s demeanor. Even as her friend grew more ill, it became more apparent to Ibsen that the dog was doing something extraordinary for her friend.
“At one point, she was in bed and didn’t respond to anything. But, I laid my dog next to her and she smiled, and started petting the dog,” Ibsen recalled. “One to two days later, she passed away. Her interaction with my dog was the last bit of reaction or response that anybody saw out of her.”
Ibsen and Patches, a Yorkie who is now 12, were one of two original volunteer teams when the pet therapy program first started at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center. Then in 2006, Ibsen was asked to lead the program’s expansion to Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center. Over the years, the program has quadrupled in size, welcoming new team members like Ibsen’s one-year-old Havanese named Scooter.
Dignity Health’s Paws for Patients program not only spreads humankindness, but it also makes a significant difference for patients. Light play and calm repose lift the spirits of patients, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and anxiety. Inclusion of animals in a patient’s care aids greater comfort, progress and recovery.