Studies show pets aid in stress relief, healing

September 10, 2017

Studies have shown that interaction with dogs and other domestic animals has significant benefits. Three years ago, Beebe Healthcare started its pet therapy program to connect patients, visitors and employees with trained dogs and handlers. This program reduces stress both physically and mentally.

It has been shown that contact with a gentle, friendly pet can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, release endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect, and diminish overall physical pain. Such contact also tends to lift spirits and lessen depression, decrease feelings of isolation and alienation, and encourage communication and socialization. Patients’ feelings of boredom, loneliness and anxiety are often reduced by the comforting presence of a pet. Pet therapy also helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders, and creates motivation for clients to recover faster.

The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some people require. It also helps patients and visitors relax as they wait for treatment.

Beebe partners with PAWS for People, a Wilmington-based nonprofit that works solely with pet visitation volunteers. Each volunteer and each dog is trained for pet visitation. The animals are taught how to behave around patients in all physical and mental states.

PAWS is unique because of the emphasis the group places on providing individualized therapeutic experiences for every person the handlers and animals visit. PAWS has strict standards for training and testing dogs and cats to make sure every therapy team is capable of meeting the various needs of a diverse clientele.

The PAWS organization helps coordinate teams at more than 130 locations, which now include Beebe's medical center in downtown Lewes, Tunnell Cancer Center, and Bookhammer Outpatient Surgery Center at the Beebe Health Campus on Route 24 near Rehoboth Beach.

Beebe now employs 17 teams of dogs and handlers, but the need continues to grow. Lee Halloran, who manages volunteer services at Beebe, is searching for more pet therapy teams to join the Beebe volunteer services program. Aanyone who is  interested and has a dog that could be suitable for the program can call 302-645-3531. For more information on PAWS for People, go to

Lee Halloran, manager of volunteer services at Beebe Healthcare, has been working with volunteers at Beebe for the last eight years. She received her bachelor of science degree in organizational management at Wilmington University.