Patty Kaplan, left, and Barbara Fosnaugh talk about Paxil, a registered therapy dog.
Paxil, a black and white Large Munsterlander Pointer, sat next to Barbara Fosnaugh as the 87-year-old patted his head.
Usually, the “70-pound lapdog,” as his owner describes him, will lay across her feet or snuggle up to her, when he visits every other week, but the wheelchair she was in Friday made that harder.
“He just makes my day,” she said. “I wish he could come more often.”
Paxil is a registered therapy dog that has been working with patients of Iowa Health Hospice. Now, officials there are trying to recruit more dogs for the metro-area’s first animal assisted therapy program focusing on hospices.
Paxil’s owner, Patty Kaplan, the president of Paws for Therapy Inc. and the consultant helping start the program, as well as hospice officials emphasized the benefits for patients dogs can provide.
Various studies have shown interacting with therapy animals can help decrease patients’ blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones and help them reduce the amount of medication they must take.
“This is evidence based,” Kaplan said. “But really, it’s a moment of the day where they can just wrap their arms around the dog and take their minds off of things.”
Leanne Burrack, the director of hospice care for Iowa Health Hospice, said adding the dogs to the organization’s list of other forms of therapy will help provide comfort to patients, as well as their families.
“They can provide comfort, joy and delight that sometimes humans can’t,” she said.
The organization is looking for dogs and handlers to expand the program. Neither dog nor human needs any experience with therapy work, but dogs must be well-behaved and meet some other requirements.
The selection and training process will take much of the summer and officials hope to launch the program by September.
Kaplan and Paxil will be at the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market to answer any questions people may have and distribute applications.
More information on how to volunteer is also available at www.iowahealthhomecare.org/hospicedogs or by calling (515) 557-3287