Chicago hospital allows dog and cat visiting hours

All pet owners can attest to the health benefits of petting a dog or a cat. For long-term hospital patients with serious illnesses, cuddle time with Fido or Fluffy can provide that extra boost they need to get through each difficult day of treatment. But for the vast majority of patients, policies prohibiting pets ban four-legged family members from hospital rooms.

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago was one of those facilities hesitant to allow pet visitors — that is, until now.

As of December 2012, Rush became the first Chicagoland hospital to adopt an official visitation policy for canine or feline visitors. Rush joins only a dozen other hospitals across the country in allowing dogs and cats in patient rooms.

After a three-year study and consultations with other hospitals that formally permit pet visitors, including the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the University of Maryland Medical Center, Rush officials decided the benefits of a pet policy outweighed any risks or costs. They have created a 21-point checklist for pet visitors; some of the items stipulate that only dogs or cats are allowed, the attending physician must sign off on the visit and the pet must be freshly groomed.

Reverend Susan Carole Roy of the University of Maryland Medical Center, who provided consultation to the Rush task force, is pleased that Rush University Medical Center has implemented what she’s found to be such a beneficial program at her hospital.

“Our pets are an integral part of our everyday lives, and they share in our greatest joys and darkest hours,” Roy explains. “For patients to be able to reconnect with their pets — even for a short period of time — can really be very meaningful. It allows them to get in touch with a part of their lives that is often lost when they become patients.”

The decision in favor of dog and cat visitors was a long time coming for Rush Associate Vice President of Nursing Operations, Diane Gallagher, one of the biggest advocates for establishing a pet visitors policy at the Chicago hospital.

“For those of you who are dog lovers, this will be a piece of cake,” Gallagher told her colleagues. “The rest of you will just have to trust me.”

Bernadette Slesinski-Evans of nearby Oak Lawn, Ill., became the first Rush patient to take advantage of the new policy when her beloved Dachshund, Sadie, stopped by for a long-awaited visit.

Slesinski-Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010. The Oak Lawn resident has been hospitalized at Rush several times over the past few years, and is currently there receiving pain management treatments. One of the first things Slesinski-Evans did after checking into her hospital room was put out photos of Sadie and her two other dogs, a Collie and an Australian Shepherd.

A nurse noticed the photos and told Slesinski-Evans about Rush’s policy for dog and cat visitors. Less than 48 hours later, Sadie walked through the door and greeted her mom for the first time in weeks.

“It just gives me a little piece of home,” Slesinski-Evans told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s just wonderful to have someone to hug…and help me deal with things.”



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