Over the past 70 years, the corridors of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) have been graced by celebrities, musicians, politicians, and foreign dignitaries. The latest star to turn heads walking through hallways and patient rooms at LRMC was a four-year-old with curly brown hair, big brown eyes, and puppy breath.
With the wag of a tail, Saif, an Australian Labradoodle, was the first pet visitor at LRMC in over three years as part of the American Red Cross at Landstuhl’s Pet Visitation Program.
The program aims to serve the military community by visiting military hospital patients and staff to boost morale.
“When (patients) are going through troubling times, sometimes the littlest things make such a big difference. We hope that we can be that difference in their day,” said DeDe Musa, a Red Cross volunteer and Saif’s handler. “We just finished our first visit and it was a huge success. I'm really excited in knowing that (Saif) is going to get a kick out of this.”
“The dogs have to be comfortable around different situations because when they come (to LRMC), there are smells, noises and conditions that are different,” said Raffaella Burriss, who certifies pets for the program. “I don't judge the dog as a pet, I'm just seeing whether the pet fits the hospital environment.”
Aside from delivering smiles to those the pet interacts with, studies show pet visitations in hospital settings also decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and reduce loneliness for patients.
“They might spend most of the time at in the hospital on their own with few visitors, so the morale dogs and the petting of the dog really brings smiles and kind of makes their day,” said Burriss.
Since 2004, Burriss has volunteered at the Landstuhl Red Cross office providing canine expertise and certifications for the program. Following complications, the program went on hiatus at the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. Since reinitiating the program, only Saif has completed the certification process.
“My family always looked at (Saif) as such a loving member of our family who's got something special and unique in his own way,” said Musa, a native of Fort Worth, Texas. “I heard an advertisement calling for volunteers and I thought I was just at the right place, at the right time.”
The pooch’s first visit consisted of visits to inpatient wards and meeting with staff members. While Musa recognizes the benefits future visits will bring staff and patients at LRMC, she admits the visits also help her and Saif with their own disposition.
“The visits are going to bring a lot of joy to the two of us, but most importantly, joy and comfort to the patients,” said Musa.