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URMC / Strong Memorial Hospital / Friends of Strong / The Best of Friends Blog / April 2013 / Profile of Excellence: Strong P.ET.S. Team Provides Remarkable Benefits at Strong

Profile of Excellence: Strong P.ET.S. Team Provides Remarkable Benefits at Strong

undefinedA 2012 Board Excellence Award for Team Excellence went to the all-volunteer, twelve-year-old Strong P.E.T.S. (Pets Engaged in Therapeutic Socialization) Program.

In 2000, Ann Lacey and her sheltie dog Rickey teamed up to bring the benefits of animal-assisted activities to patients at Strong Memorial Hospital. Lacey has been compared to Florence Nightingale—a pioneer of using animals in a hospital setting to calm and relax the sick—and Rickey later became known as “Dr. Rickey” for his healing ability.

Remarkable changes occur in patients and families in the presence of the dogs—unit staff report that the animals are powerful stress relievers with an observed ability to relax anxious patients. Uncommunicative children begin socializing and reach out to pet the dogs, and those near the end of their life’s journey are comforted and calmed.


But creating a real animal-assisted activity program is different from just dropping by with a dog to visit a patient. Lacey and Friends of Strong worked tirelessly with Infection Control, breaking down barriers to create appropriate guidelines for animals in the hospital: To volunteer, dogs had to display the right temperament, undergo two health checkups per year, be carefully groomed, and undergo extensive behavior training and certification by a pet therapy organization.

These days, the Strong P.E.T.S. Program is an unpaid full-time job that Lacey manages with the help of co-coordinator Kathleen Richards—overseeing 13 handlers and 18 dogs (some are pictured at left). Today the canines are minor celebrities, easily identifiable by their red “Strong P.E.T.S.” bandannas. These special Labrador Retrievers, shelties, and mixed breeds have been profiled locally on TV and in print. When the dogs enter the hospital, heads turn, faces light, and people crowd around to pet them. Each week, they visit 14 units, including Pediatrics, Oncology, Orthopaedics, Cardiology, Behavioral Health, Rehabilitation and Palliative Care.

The program wouldn’t be the success it is without the dedication of all handlers and dogs working in concert to help and support team members and patients and their families. They spend considerable amounts of their own money annually on vet bills, registration fees, and certification fees. Whatever it takes to make sure the dogs are available to those who need them for as long as they need them, the P.E.T.S. team provides.

The dogs have also visited other University groups, such as students on the River Campus, and even recently participated in a monthly meet-and-greet for stressed medical school students and staff in The Miner Library.

Thanks so much to this valuable team for brining joy, hope, and calm into the hospital. We’re proud to acknowledge their work with the 2012 Board Excellence Award for Team Excellence.

Matt Ulakovic | 4/30/2013

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