Shelby Baptist adds animal-assisted therapy

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – Alabaster’s Shelby Baptist Medical Center recently launched a new partnership with Hand In Paw to add animal-assisted treatment programs across multiple medical units.

Hand in Paw volunteer Michele Pawlik joins her dog, Cody, during a therapy session at a local hospital. Shelby Baptist recently partnered with Hand in Paw to offer animal-assisted therapy programs. (Contributed)

Hand in Paw volunteer Michele Pawlik joins her dog, Cody, during a therapy session at a local hospital. Shelby Baptist recently partnered with Hand in Paw to offer animal-assisted therapy programs. (Contributed)

Hand in Paw added the programs to SBMC and Princeton Baptist Medical Center through the organization’s longstanding partnership with Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, another Brookwood Baptist Health hospital.

Hand-In-Paw is a nonprofit organization working to improve the physical, mental and emotional health of children and adults through the use of professionally trained therapy dogs.

In the weeks since the programs began at both hospitals, staff members said they have already witnessed improvements in patient engagement.

“I think the patients have really enjoyed the visits from the dogs. We have had patients that rarely ever participate in group sessions really connect with them and engage more when they are here,” Tamesha Carter, an occupational therapist at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, wrote in a statement.

Hand In Paw will offer its services weekly to multiple departments at Princeton and Shelby, including Geriatric Psychiatry, General Psychiatry, Oncology and Palliative Care. Brookwood Baptist said canine therapy has proven effective in treating a multitude of physical and psychological ailments, providing an additional form of relief for patients with serious health conditions.

Hand-In-Paw volunteers and animals are extensively trained and tested for behavioral consistency and temperament, ensuring safe interactions in therapeutic environments.

“The medical team at Shelby recognizes that animal-assisted therapy is a vital component of a holistic approach to health care,” said SBMC President Bob Phillips, president at SBMC. “The services provided by Hand-In-Paw foster an environmental condition that empowers both patients and physicians to achieve greater treatment outcomes.”

According to Brookwood Baptist, animal-assisted therapy is effective in reducing patient anxiety, thereby decreasing stress, which can be detrimental to the healing process. Hand-In-Paw will work directly with Princeton’s medical staff to determine appropriate interaction levels between its patients on a case-by-case basis. Trained handlers will accompany the animals into participating units to guide patient interactions and ensure mutual safety.

“We’re proud to partner with Princeton and Shelby to offer our services to patients in need of additional relief,” said Laura Cardwell, executive director at Hand In Paw. “Our professionally-trained animals help create a soothing, comfortable environment and provide emotional and physical support for patients in the midst of a health crisis.”