FORT JACKSON, SC -- The American Red Cross is working to make pet visitation therapy a reality at Fort Jackson.

Research shows that pet visitation provides measurable effects on the health of hospitalized or seriously ill patients, including noticeable improvements in mental and physical well-being.

Visiting pets often provide an emotional outlet to patients, lifting their moods, improving their spirits and giving them energy. The animals may also serve as a bridge to encourage dialogue between the patient and his caregivers or visitors. When a patient is hospitalized or ill while far away from home, he or she may miss the closeness of his or her treasured pet.

"I first experienced the Red Cross Pet Visitation Program in Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri)," said Merry McKeown, MACH's Red Cross hospital chairwoman. "Since the program was foreign to me, I accompanied our volunteers Lela, a Labrador, and Pepper, a Pomeranian, along with their owners on one of their visits. It was amazing to see how our four-legged volunteers made so many people smile while they made their 'rounds' through the hospital. We estimated that on a single visit from the basement to the 10th floor they encountered at least 250 patients, military dependents and staff members. We hope to have the same effect and success with our pet visitation program here at Fort Jackson."

Red Cross workers hope to get enough volunteers to establish the pet visitation program at MACH and the Warrior Transition Unit.

Pets must be at least a year old, be spayed or neutered and must pass a careful evaluation for both good health and good behavior. The pet's obedience skills and their relationship with the pet owner are also evaluated. Owners and dogs will receive training and certification prior to beginning visits.

Call 751-4329 for information about the pet visitation program or to volunteer for the program.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16