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Animal-Assisted Therapy

At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, we’re committed to caring for the whole person—body, mind and spirit. Our holistic approach includes animal-assisted therapy, a complementary therapy that provides physical, emotional and psychological benefits.

Trained dogs (or sometimes cats) and their equally trained and screened handlers make rounds on hospital units, checking with nursing staff and patients to see if a patient would be interested in a visit. Patients can request a visit through their nurse or, at St. Michael Medical Center, can contact Integrative Health to schedule a visit at 360-744-4924.

Health benefits of animals

Recent studies show the health benefits of having animals in our lives. Interacting and building relationships with animals can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels among pet owners and reduce loneliness among people in long-term care facilities.

What is animal-assisted therapy (AAT)?

Also referred to as pet therapy, AAT uses interaction with animals to help people cope with and recover from a variety of health conditions.
Our animal-assisted activities bring dogs and cats into the hospital to spend time with our patients. Goals of the program include:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Providing an incentive for patients to return home to their own pets
  • Taking patients’ minds off their illness or injury
  • Bringing the healing power of animals to people in need

Volunteer team for the animal-assisted therapy team

Our hospital Volunteer Services department (or Integrative Health at St. Michael Medical Center) partners with Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs Incorporated and Project Canine’s Connecting Canines Program on Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s animal-assisted activities.

Our staff members train the animal handlers the same way as other hospital volunteers, with a focus on:

  • Core values
  • Customer service
  • Ethics
  • Patient confidentiality

We ensure that "both ends of the leash"—people and animals—are well prepared for their roles. Before animals and their handlers can participate in visiting patients, they must complete a rigorous screening and training program.

AAT locations

We offer this program in the following hospitals and at Franciscan Hospice House.

Learn more about animal-assisted therapy

For more information, contact Volunteer Services, or Integrative Health at St. Michael Medical Center at 564-240-1000.