Friday, June 21 is Take Your Dog to Work Day, an annual event created by Pet Sitters International, the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters. For obvious reasons, employees of a medical center can’t participate. However, two UAB Medicine employees “take their dogs to work” several days throughout the year to provide animal-assisted therapy for those who need it.
Kay Guess, an inpatient clinical pharmacist at UAB Hospital, and Melanie Lipford, a physical therapist with UAB Medicine Rehabilitation Services, are volunteers for Hand in Paw, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that provides animal-assisted therapy services to people dealing with emotional and physical life challenges. Hand in Paw serves medical centers, schools, and service organizations throughout north central Alabama and Tuscaloosa, providing positive distraction, motivation, empathy, and compassion.
Hand in Paw volunteers understand the unique ways that hospitals and clinics can be pet-friendly. Guess and Lipford also know that the physical and emotional benefits of animal-assisted therapy – in both clinical settings and in the home – are well-documented. They enjoy sharing their experiences as part of a therapy team.
“We became a therapy team in November of 2017,” Guess says, referring to her and Oliver, an 11-year-old bichon frise. “We have visited the Mental Health Fair in the North Pavilion, and we recently participated in a stress relief visit at UAB Hospital-Highlands. We also visited a back-to-school event last August for incoming freshmen at campus housing. Our regular visit site is with the special needs classes at Helena Elementary for the School’s Best Friend event each Thursday.”
As a Helena resident, Guess serves schools, the YWCA, and other places in the area that offer after-school programs. She hopes to work with UAB Medicine patients and staff more regularly as opportunities arise. In the meantime, Guess and Oliver are growing as a team.
“Oliver and I have experienced firsthand the difference a couple of hours can make in the outcome of a person’s day,” Guess says. “Being able to serve with an organization whose primary goal is to bring joy and smiles to others is such an honor. Watching how excited Oliver gets before we make a visit has become one of my favorite things. As soon as he sees me in my yellow Hand in Paw volunteer shirt, and I grab our backpack and his yellow bandana, he is just ecstatic to get in the car. Oliver knows it’s time to work, and he enjoys the adventures we share. He also gets a special treat after a visit; his favorites are a Jack’s ham biscuit and Chick-fil-A grilled nuggets.”
Lipford and her Hand in Paw teammate, a three-year-old golden retriever named Ollie, have been volunteering for two years. They are not currently visiting UAB, but recently they’ve been bringing joy and companionship to Children’s of Alabama hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.
“I think Ollie and I like working with children most of all,” Lipford says. “Of course he’s in it for the petting, the belly rubs, and the smiles. I enjoy seeing the excitement and comfort that Ollie brings to the patients as well as their family members. That’s the most rewarding thing about volunteering. After going through some really tough times, these patients get so much joy out of getting to visit the therapy pets to make their day just a little brighter.”
Click here to learn more about Hand in Paw.