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Therapy dogs allowed back inside Colorado Springs hospital; helping hospital staff cope with difficult pandemic year

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 8:47 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Therapy dogs are finally allowed back inside a local hospital, helping nurses, doctors and hospital staff cope with a difficult year.

The pet therapy program at Penrose Hospital has been around since about 1998, and began with about 3 dogs. Now, the program has grown to about 28 dogs who visit the hospital every week.

But, when the hospital closed its doors to the public last spring due to COVID-19 restrictions, the dogs and volunteers had to hang up their service vests and wait.

“It was traumatic. I mean there was a lot of stress, a lot of depression not having the dogs,” said Volunteer Lead Rick Cavin.

Bryn, an 8-year-old cream golden retriever (pictured above), was one of the dogs that had to patiently wait almost a year and a half to walk the halls of Penrose Hospital again.

“We saw a shift in her. Every neighbor that came by, she would sit at their feet for hours just trying to kind of reenact some of that,” said Bryn’s owner and volunteer Cynthia Swift.

In May, the dogs and volunteers were allowed back inside Penrose Hospital as some COVID-19 restrictions loosened. Instead of coming in larger groups more often, each dog is allowed to visit in smaller shifts.

“We’ve made some really good friends with nursing staff and admin and to watch their faces as Bryn walks into their office or to their nursing station was very gratifying,” said Swift.

Bryn’s first assignment was helping victims of the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting. Bryn and Swift have done hundreds of visits to Penrose Hospital.

“We’re there for people who just really want to pet a dog and have some comfort,” said Swift.

The dogs visit the nursing and hospital staff in certain areas of the hospital. Usually the dogs can visit patients, but due to current COVID-19 restrictions, they are limited to seeing hospital staff for now.

“We love it. It actually helps bring up the morale, especially if we’re having a very hectic, busy day,” said Medical Assistant Carene Pabalan.

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