Eskenazi Health hires its first full-time pet therapy dog

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 3, 2015)-- Eskenazi Health is growing its pet therapy dog program.

A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas and to people with learning difficulties.

At 140 pounds, Olivia isn't your average dog. Olivia is a Newfoundland, and has her own hospital badge.

Nearly every day, Olivia comes to work with Ernie Vargo, president and CEO of the Eskenazi Health Foundation.

"Her job is to visit patients and staff and her job is to make people smile," explained Ernie Vargo.

Vargo finished training with Olivia last month. Olivia is now certified therapy dog caring for patients at Eskenazi.

The goal is have at least two or three therapy dogs available for patients and staff and Eskenazi each day.

"Research shows if you are in a welcome environment, it`s a soothing environment and more calm, you can healer quicker and let your stay is shorter," said Vargo.

Patient Clifton Armstrong enjoyed a visit from therapy dog Luna.

"We always had pets. They are comforting aren`t they? Yes, they are!" said Armstrong.

Jovi is a 3-month-old toy poodle. Jovi is a therapy-dog in training at Eskenazi. Jovi will be the first full-time therapy dog at Eskenazi after he finishes his training later this year.  Dogs have to be at least a year old and complete three classes before they can be officially certified as a therapy dog.

The other therapy dogs at Eskenazi Health are Murphy, a golden retriever and black lab mix, Chief, a golden retriever, Luna, a Shih Tzu and Yorkie mix, and Prince, a coonhound.

"His role here will be to provide comfort and support to those that are sick and may be a little down because they are in the hospital," said  Catrece Young, manager of Eskenazi Health Pet Therapy

Patients and staff can request a visit from a therapy dog any time the dogs are in the building. Nurses can arrange a visit for patients who they feel could benefit from interaction with a dog.

Click here for more information on the program.