Taking care of caretakers: Pet therapy dogs at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands raise spirits of staff

By: Kim Kyle Morgan, Woodlands Online
| Published 12/15/2017


THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- There's no doubt pet therapy is known for its many benefits to hospital patients. Dogs can provide comfort, assist with recovery and aid in rehabilitation.

But there are also major advantages for those working the front line.

"Hospital staff is like a family," said Dean Nistetter, director of hospitals and senior care at Montgomery Pet Partners. "If there's a sad situation on one floor, the whole hospital knows it. These dogs come in, and are a source of release for their emotions. Sometimes they get down on their knees and hug the dog. Sometimes they just let loose and let the dog have all of their emotions. A few minutes with a dog can really boost an employee's mood if they're having a bad day."

Karen Bilsing, manager of volunteer services at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, said they have a great partnership with the four-legged and two-legged volunteers at Montgomery Pet Partners.

"They've been able to help when we've had to have employees here 24-7 or anytime we have an employee crisis, just to provide the comfort and relief that pets can offer," she said.

Dogs visit the hospital six days a week, Nistetter said. In 2016, Montgomery Pet Partners spent approximately 2,000 hours visiting patients, and several more just brightening the days of doctors, nurses and staff.

"They see us week after week, so they develop a relationship with the dogs," Nistetter said. "And the dogs recognize the staff. They start wagging their tails, and then the staff see that the dog is excited to see them, too … it's a happy moment all around for everybody."

The pooches are registered pet therapy dogs, and just like their handlers, sport their own Memorial Hermann Volunteer badges.

Montgomery Pet Partners visited staff during Hurricane Harvey, and will do the same over the holidays to lift the spirits of those on shift. Most recently, employees were treated to a "North Pole Pet Parade and got to see several of their favorites traipsing through the halls all at once.

"We really get to see some special connections made," Nistetter said. "That's why we volunteer. That's why we do this. It just warms our hearts."

Montgomery Pet Partners By the Numbers:

  • 100 percent volunteer-based, non-profit organization
  • 65 teams (a team is one handler and one dog)
  • 15 schools receive visits
  • 5 senior care facilities receive visits
  • 4 libraries receive visits
  • 3 hospitals receive visits

For more information, visit www.montgomerypetpartners.org.

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