Specially-trained dogs assist with anxiety, PTSD at St. Luke's Meridian

Posted at 5:16 PM, Sep 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-18 19:16:02-04

For some, a trip to the hospital, even for a routine visit, can be extremely stressful, but for more than a year, trained service dogs have been easing the anxiety inside the halls of St. Luke's Meridian. 

"Especially [for] patients that may be in a behavior or mental health crisis, we utilize the dogs when they tend to get amped-up," Josh Schwenken, Security Operations Supervisor at St. Luke's, said. 

Dogs like English golden retriever Sage learn how to help those struggling with a range of issues from everyday stress to PTSD. 

"That continuous motion of petting a dog works with cortisol levels, serotonin levels, and it works very well as a de-stressor," Schwenken said. 

The dogs are taught to recognize subtle signs of anxiety a human could miss, such as a patient clicking a pen, shaking a leg or the wringing their hands.

"They'll put their paw at their leg, sit next to them," Schwenken said. "If the person that they're working with doesn't connect with them, that dog will stand up on that person's leg... kind of get in their face a little bit as kind of a reminder, like, hey let me be a distraction to you."

Sometimes, the dogs can enter a patient's room in place of a staff member. 

"A lot of times we don't have to say anything, it's just that introduction of a dog, and to have that quiet moment to think about their own behavior or things that are going on, and realizing that it's not the end of the world," Schewenken said. 

Though the hospital staff is trained to handle situations in which patients are under duress, sometimes the best man or woman for the job is a dog.

"Dogs provide that companionship and that unconditional love that they may be seeking but they're not going to get from anybody else," Schwenken said. "Even if it's ten or 20 minutes with the dog, for them, it makes all the difference."