The Joys and Benefits of Pet Therapy

Tracy Kinney’s official day job is cleaning fish tanks around Cincinnati with Aquatic Interiors; her unofficial job is animal lover and nurturer. She has taken care of more than 40 dogs over the years—some rescued, some given to her, and some just meant to be a part of her family.
It was this canine love that inspired Tracy to start bringing her dogs with her while she cleaned fish tanks at The Christ Hospital more than 20 years ago. It didn’t take long for her beloved dogs to start boosting spirits and bringing smiles to the faces of both patients and staff.
Last year, Tracy crossed over to the patient side of The Christ Hospital when she received a stage 3 colorectal cancer diagnosis.
Her loyal canine buddies Squish and Jeep have been with her every step of the way, from chemotherapy treatments to doctor appointments – and even in pre-op and post-op.
“It’s great to have them with me because they make me feel more calm and relaxed,” said Tracy. “If it’s a procedure that they can’t come along for, my mom waits with them in waiting room and then the dogs are brought in to me later. The doctors and nurses love them just as much as I do!”
Her dogs are equal-opportunity snugglers, curling up in the chemo chairs with patients who could use an extra bit of love during their treatments. The dogs have been familiar faces at Christ Hospital for years – Squish has even appeared in the Cancer Center’s holiday play as the Grinch’s dog, Max.
While Tracy has experienced the benefits of Pet Therapy firsthand with her own medical journey, she has also seen some incredible responses to Pet Therapy, from stabilizing blood pressure in an unresponsive patient in the ICU to giving a long-silent patient an avenue to find her words once again.

The best part for Tracy? The joy.

“Bringing my dogs into The Christ Hospital puts a smile on everyone’s face. It can be a bad day for that patient and getting to interact with the dog, to pet them and feel their love…it’s such a great feeling to bring people that kind of joy.”
Eight of Tracy’s dogs are certified through Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati, a pet certification program that ensures both the canine and their volunteer handler are evaluated and approved to be designated Therapy Dogs. Tracy is deeply involved in Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati, a volunteer group that connects Therapy Dogs with nursing homes, hospitals and schools in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area.

Some of the physical and emotional benefits of pet therapy include:

  • Decreased need for pain medications in those who suffer from chronic pain
  • Lowered stress levels
  • A calming effect in patients with dementia
  • Improved mood
  • Decreased anxiety in hospitalized patients
  • Decreased loneliness and social isolation, and a sense of emotional connection
  • Pet therapy may even enhance the will to live
One study conducted at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, and featured in Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology, found that patients who were actively in cancer treatment (radiation and chemotherapy patients), experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when a certified Therapy Dog visited them during their treatment. This included a decrease in pain, psychological distress, and fatigue.
To learn more about support services and integrative medicine programs at The Christ Hospital, visit Integrative Medicine. For more information on pet therapy and the process to get your own pet certified, visit Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati.