CINCINNATI -- University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s four-legged volunteers dress in their "Howl-o-ween" best on Thursday as they visited patients and staff during the hospital's yearly holiday parade.
The third annual event allowed participating pets to go around to various floors and wings of the medical center in Clifton. Instead of candy, milk bone goodies were handed out to the pups as they trick-or-treated.
"Have you ever heard true belly laughter in a hospital? This is why we do this, because for just a few minutes of time it is nothing but pure joy," said Sheila C. Maxwell, director of Auxiliary, Volunteers and Interpreting Services.
Spokesperson Diana Maria Lara said part of the fun and "cute factor" is seeing the dogs "some dogs ... go after the wings or hats (worn by) the other dogs."
In addition to the hour-and-a-half parade, the event featured games, prizes and other seasonally appropriate pastimes to give patients of all ages a taste of Halloween fun and a few moments to take their minds off their medical conditions.
Maxwell said the event is so beloved that staff members have been known to switch their schedules to see the parade.
"(Doctors) come out of the operating room, or wait to start their rounds to see these dogs. And patients in intensive care units suddenly have a smile on their faces," she said. "What better medicine is there than laughter?"
While the event is held to bring smiles and joys to the faces of patients, those who've attend the event in the past think the dogs have a a pretty good time -- even if they do protest a little about wearing their costumes.
"Just like the kids, these puppies love to see their friends. It’s a huge Halloween party for the pups, too," Maxwell said.
It's not all fun and games for these adorable creatures. They've all earned their good time. All participating animals are part of the UC Health pet therapy program. Operated through volunteer services, the program offers their services to patients upon request.
According to the UC Health website, interaction with the dogs helps reduce anxiety and depression associated with hospitalization.
In order to be part of the program a dog has to receive special training that demonstrates they dogs have the temperament necessary to visit patients and families in the facility. After the training, each dog is tested to see if they can earn the required "Canine Good Citizen" title -- proving they can walk in a crowd and be friendly to humans and other canines. They also need to show that they can walk amongst medical equipment and wheelchairs.
These furry volunteers are insured for $3 million each, Maxwell said, but to the patients, volunteers and staff these dogs are priceless.
The canines work on all floors, including the Barrett Cancer Center, but each has a specialty area. They're such regular visitors to the hospital that they even have their own picture ID badges and are considered part of the staff.
While unconventional medical tools, these dogs "make a difference in the world of modern medicine" by having a positive emotional effect on the patients, according to Maxwell.
"They all are ours and so loved by all, it turns the day into such a Happy day for all!" she said.
Please contact Volunteer Services (513-584-4875) to have an application mailed to you if you have a pet that would be a good fit for the program.
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