LIVINGSTON, NJ — Human-animal interaction brought joy, laughter and healing to patients and staff at Saint Barnabas Medical Center’s “Pet Therapy Day” on Wednesday. The SBMC Islami Auditorium was filled with volunteer pet-therapy teams and their dogs, who were eager to interact with employees, patients and members of the community who needed a smile.

Saint Barnabas’ Pet Therapy program is a patient-centered experience that brings dogs to the hospital to interact with patients in need. According to Pet Therapy Coordinator Jackie Canete, the therapy teams, certified by Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, understand the needs of patients with various medical conditions. In this case, Canete said the event was primarily intended for staff and visitors, but dogs and their owners were happy to visit patients upon request.  

“I’m trying to make [Pet Therapy Day] an annual thing and maybe even a bi-annual thing because the staff just loves it,” said Canete. “The dogs bring a tremendous amount of stress relief, they lessen your anxiety, lower your blood pressure and just give you an overall feeling of well good and comfort.”

Most of the dogs at Tuesday’s event were SBMC volunteers, but some were also from Paws for Patients, which is part of Saint Barnabas Health Hospice, and some strictly from Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs. Canete said the therapy team is always acquiring new volunteers, escorting new teams, and scheduling events like this one.

In order to recruit new volunteers who are interested in getting their dog certified, Canete and her SBMC team hold “Lobby Mondays” on the third Monday of every month in the visitor’s lobby of the facility located at 94 Old Short Hills Rd in Livingston. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lobby Mondays invite aspiring therapy dogs and their owners to learn about the training process and become involved.

According to Canete, therapy dogs are often family dogs with general obedience skills. To become certified, these family dogs are put into situations that might encounter in a hospital, like approaching a patient in a wheelchair or using crutches. Meg Ryan, a SBMC employee who works in the corporate facility across the street from the event, walked over with her coworkers because she knew it would brighten her day.

“Seeing an animal makes most people feel happy,” said Ryan. “I came across the street just to see them for a little bit just to make my day. The petting and the loving factor gives you a break and gets your minds off of things.”

Canete said the staff had a positive experience with Pet Therapy day and hopes SBMC will host the event again in the near future.