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Here's to You: Canine Therapy: Pets visiting rehab centers lessen stress for patients

Wally Sande greets his walking companion, Annie, who visits him while he is in rehab at Havenwood Care Center. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Heidi Harrington, an employee at Havenwood Care Center, hands her two dogs, Tinker Bell and Buddy, to Peggy Quick to get a little extra loving. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper2 / 2

It's a proven fact there are numerous health benefits of owning a pet.

For Virginia Sande, when her husband, Wally, needed rehab they searched for a facility that would allow her to bring in his best friend, Annie, an 8-year-old English Cocker Spaniel, for visits. They chose Havenwood Care Center, which has allowed pet visits since 1986. The center also houses a resident dog and cats, an aviary and an aquarium. Havenwood also encourages frequent visits from volunteers with Therapy Dogs.

The only problem that faces Virginia when she brings Annie in for a visit is it takes her several extra minutes to get to Wally's room because everybody wants to pet Annie.

"It wasn't an option," Virginia said. "The two needed to see each other. It's wonderful we found a place they can still be together."

Havenwood employee Heidi Harrington brings in her two dogs, Tinker Bell and Buddy, three times a week, often finding out that residents request she goes back home to bring in her dogs.

"I love to see the residents' reaction when they see the dogs," Harrington said. "It's priceless."

Pets are the best antidote to loneliness and fighting depression. Dogs give people unconditional love and loyalty. They can reduce the amount of stress people experience in response to feelings of social isolation. Most of all, they are great listeners.