Diabetic Pets Therapy: Enhancing Patient and Staff Well-being with Therapy Dogs


Diabetic Pets Therapy: Improved Patient and Staff Well-being

Diabetic Pets Therapy is a program at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ont., that aims to enhance the well-being of both patients and staff through therapy dogs. Although the program was temporarily put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, therapy dogs and their handlers have now resumed their visits to 18 floors in the hospital.

Benefits for Patients and Staff

The program, led by Rita Terry, the program’s coordinator for 37 years, brings joy and comfort to patients and staff alike. Each visit lasts for approximately one to two hours, during which 6 to 8 dogs accompany the volunteers. According to Terry, the dogs are immensely happy to be there, uplifting the spirits of all they encounter.

Tannys Laughren, the hospital’s volunteer services lead and a dog lover, has been instrumental in expanding the program to various units within the hospital. Terry mentioned that wherever they go, they seldom encounter objections from people regarding the presence of therapy dogs. However, they prioritize obtaining consent from patients before bringing in the dogs, taking into consideration any allergies or personal preferences.

Research Highlights Positive Effects

Recent research conducted by Alexandria Pavelich, a PhD student and researcher at the University of Saskatchewan’s One Health and Wellness office, affirms the positive impact of therapy dogs in healthcare settings. Pavelich collaborated with the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in Saskatoon to study the effects of the program on patients and staff.

The study demonstrated that spending just a few minutes petting a dog can significantly decrease cortisol levels, which are stress hormones. This finding is particularly promising for patients experiencing panic attacks, as the interaction with therapy dogs can immediately offer them benefits. However, Pavelich and her colleagues also found that medical staff, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, experienced considerable benefits from interacting with the dogs.

The mere sight of the therapy dogs prompted smiles and provided a much-needed break for staff during their demanding shifts. Many medical professionals expressed gratitude, emphasizing how the therapy dogs made a positive impact on their day, especially after difficult experiences. These encounters also benefited nurses and doctors, enabling them to perform their duties more effectively. In one instance, a therapy dog helped calm down a distressed patient, ultimately saving a nurse two hours of work. The patient was successfully discharged after just one hour of interaction with the therapy dog.

Recognition of the Human-Animal Bond

Alexandria Pavelich emphasizes the importance and impact of the human-animal bond in healing activities. This bond is particularly significant for individuals who live alone and lack a support network. Pets, such as dogs or cats, can serve as crucial sources of support for these individuals. Recognizing the therapeutic value of this bond, the Diabetic Pets Therapy program strives to harness its potential for the benefit of patients and staff at Health Sciences North.


Through the Diabetic Pets Therapy program, Health Sciences North aims to improve the well-being of patients and staff by utilizing the positive effects of therapy dogs. Research has shown that these interactions can alleviate stress, benefiting not only patients but also medical professionals. By recognizing and prioritizing the human-animal bond, the program offers a unique form of support and solace to individuals in need. With the renewed expansion of the program and the dedication of its volunteers, the future looks brighter for the hospital community at Health Sciences North.

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