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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
The healing power of pets… a volunteer’s story By Emily Sloan
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Healing Power of PetsFor most people who work full time, Friday is the best day of the week, a time of celebration as it’s the last day of a long work week before the weekend. Friday is Cassius’ favorite day of the week, too—but not because it means the end of the work week. It’s because it’s the one day of the week that Cassius goes to work.

And he does love to go to work—as a volunteer at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. Cassius isn’t your typical hospital volunteer. In fact, if you pass him in the hall, you’ll probably wonder why he’s in the hospital at all. Look closely, though, and you’ll see the official FirstHealth volunteer badge attached to his collar, complete with his picture, full name and volunteer assignment—Cassius Sloan, animal-assisted therapy. Cassius is my dog, a Boxer, but don’t let the name of the breed fool you. Cassius is a gentle, comforting dog and the perfect companion to help patients become healthier and happier. He was given to me as a gift when he was just a puppy. Now I have the opportunity to share the gift of Cassius with others.

Inpatient Rehabilitation patient Penny Black enjoys a visit with Cassius, a canine
Inpatient Rehabilitation patient Penny Black enjoys a visit with Cassius, a canine “volunteer” in Moore Regional Hospital’s Animal-Assisted Therapy program.

Animal-assisted therapy at Moore Regional involves neurology and Inpatient Rehab patients. Cassius and I volunteer for an hour each Friday, helping therapists with patient-directed rehabilitation activities. During these activities, a patient might walk with Cassius to increase ambulation skills or brush him to improve upper body strength and increase range of motion. Sometimes Cassius’ mere presence is enough to help. Studies have shown the significant improvement that occurs among patients when pets are included during therapy sessions. It didn’t take long for me to learn just how significant those improvements can be. During our first volunteer visit to Inpatient Rehab, Cassius and I met a patient who was recovering from a stroke. From

the first moment that patient was wheeled into the rehab gym and caught sight of Cassius, he was reaching out to touch his new-found four-legged friend. Cassius and I walked over to introduce ourselves, and Cassius sat beside the wheelchair as the patient clumsily patted him on the head—something Cassius has become accustomed to during our visits and doesn’t seem to mind at all.

The physical therapist working with the patient noticed the interest he was taking in Cassius, so she asked if he would like to take the dog for a walk. Without hesitating, he nodded his head.

Want to volunteer?

To volunteer with the animal-assisted therapy program at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, volunteers and pets must become registered Pet Partners through Delta Society. Delta Society brings together individuals who share a common passion—a love of animals and people—to enrich and positively impact the lives of others.

Handlers can be trained in a 12-hour course or through at-home study. Dogs are tested not only for skills and aptitude but also to ensure that they have the temperament to perform in a therapeutic setting. They must also have a veterinarian’s OK and be current on all vaccinations.

For more information, visit www.deltasociety.org or call Moore Regional’s Volunteer Services
(800) 213-3284.

I gave Cassius’ long leash to the patient, but held on to a second, shorter leash as back-up. With the therapist’s assistance, we began to make our way—slowly and steadily— around the perimeter of the rehab gym. As we reached the halfway point, the therapist asked the patient if he wanted to take a break. To her surprise, he said no. With a wave of his right hand, he motioned for us to keep going. So we did, walking almost 50 feet—more than three times the distance the man had walked since starting therapy.

Members of the rehab staff said it was the first time they had seen this patient smile. I also saw what a special treat it can be for someone who is primarily in a wheelchair to “take a walk” with a dog. Everyone was touched including a small crowd from the rehab staff who gathered to watch us make our way around the gym and then broke out in applause to celebrate the significant progress that the patient made in his rehabilitation.

Moore Regional’s Animal-Assisted Therapy program is only the second of its kind in North Carolina and was funded by a disbursement from the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation.