Merced pet therapy program makes positive impact for Mercy Medical Center patients

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Being in the hospital can be difficult not only physically, but also emotionally.

That's why Mercy Medical Center in Merced is turning to some special visitors for a little extra support.

Five-year-old Rusty is one of seven therapy dogs now making the rounds at Mercy Medical Center.

The friendly Goldendoodle is a welcome sight for employees and patients.

"I love seeing reactions to Rusty and his reaction to people, and it's very heartwarming, and I get very positive feedback," said Rusty's owner Georgeanne Adamy.

We followed Rusty and his friends Holly and Casper as they went to work, spreading smiles throughout the hospital.

"After being cooped up for a while, it's nice to get a visit from a dog, especially if you have animals at home," said patient Steve Kuykendall.

The pet therapy program started in 2002, and staff members say it's now more active than ever with at least one dog visiting patients almost every day.

Nan Von Gunten has been bringing her three fur babies since the beginning.

"Oh I love it! I enjoy it as much as they have fun seeing the dogs. They just want to pet the dogs and talk about the dogs they've had in the past or have now," said Holly's owner Nan Von Gunten.

Experts say spending time with these four-legged friends can also help ease patients' anxiety and even lower their blood pressure.

However, the dogs must go through a physical checkup of their own as well as obedience classes and special screenings to qualify for the program.

"They're trained prior to coming, and then we re-test the dogs to make sure they're safe to come into the hospital," said pet therapy coordinator Tina Arias.

The visits can last from a few minutes to half an hour with each patient, and the dogs seem to enjoy it just as much as the humans.

"He loves to be the center of attention. He loves all the pets, and I give him treats, and he always goes home and takes a really nice nap after. Haha," said Casper's owner Christine Richey.

Anyone interested in learning more about the pet therapy program can call Tina Arias at (209) 564-5682.
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