Paws and Effect


At the end of a long and stressful day, cuddling up with your beloved pet can be quite calming. But spending time with animals can promote more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling. Such is the mission of Paws Up, Inc., CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital’s animal-assisted therapy and activity program.

“Research shows that positive interactions with animals increase endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine, the hormones associated with blood pressure regulation, pain relief, stress relief and joy,” says Sandy Blaha, MS Ed, president of Paws Up, Inc. “Visits from therapy animal teams can normalize hospital stays, improve motivation to participate in treatment protocols and lessen worry, anxiety, unhappiness and pain.”

Companions in Healing

Designed to test certain functions of the body and encourage patients to never give up, animal-assisted therapy may include a wide variety of tasks and activities, including:

GROOMING — A patient who has endured a stroke may engage in brushing a dog for range of motion, fine motor skills, coordination and/or object retrieval.

SPEAKING — A patient with a communication deficit may practice giving commands to a dog or simply talk to the animal to enhance speech skills.

WALKING — A patient who has fallen and broken a hip may be afraid to take a few steps. Walking a dog regularly may help build confidence and ease anxiety. Additionally, patients who have dogs at home may practice caregiving tasks, balance, gait, coordination, and/or object retrieval during therapy sessions. For example, these patients may walk a dog on a split leash and fill a bowl with water.

“I have watched my patients speak, walk, move a limb or really cry for the first time since their illness, injury or accident when spending time with a loving dog,” says Julianne Herrera, MS, CTRS, recreational therapist with CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline. “I’m humbled as a clinician to be a part of such an effective and extraordinary therapy modality for my patients.”