The healing power of animal-assisted activities: When the dogtors make house calls

  • Animal-assisted activities have been proven to help with the mental wellbeing of healthcare workers, providing healing for anxiety, stress and depression.
  • TheHomeGround Asia drops in on a session at the Khoo Teck Puat and Yishun Community hospitals to watch the dogtors from the Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (AAISG) at work.
KTPH operating theatre nurse Clarence Yee had a bad day at work today but just 10 minutes with the dogtors and the pressures of the day were forgotten. He is seen here having a "consultation" with Dogtor Koji. (Photo source: KTPH/Facebook)
KTPH operating theatre nurse Clarence Yee had a bad day at work today but just 10 minutes with the dogtors and the pressures of the day were forgotten. He is seen here having a "consultation" with Dogtor Koji. (Photo source: KTPH/Facebook)

Animal-assisted interaction has been proven to have healing power when it comes to the mental wellbeing of those in the highly stressful jobs of healthcare.

So these dogtors, hailing from the Animal-Assisted Interactions Singapore (AAISG), made their latest house call to the Khoo Teck Puat and Yishun Community hospitals on 25 Aug to ā€œdiagnoseā€ and ā€œtreatā€ the nurses working there.

ā€œAnd interacting with the dogs helped relieve the stress I had today. It has been a bad day for me and interacting with these dogs is a great relief,ā€ said senior staff nurse Clarence Yee, 38.

Mr Yee, who has been working in the operating theatre at KTPH for 12 years, was part of the 40 nurses and therapists who signed up for the Dogtors-on-call programme with AAISG.

And providing the ā€œcureā€ were dogtors Tobi, Vera, Rapha and Koji.

The healing power of animal-assisted therapy: When the dogtors make house calls
<em>Nurses and therapists at KTPH and Yishun Community Hospital were treated to love and play by these dogtors that made a house call there Dogtor Vera prescribed a session of snacks for herself as she helped the staff de stress Photo source TheHomeGround Asia<em>

The healing power of canine-assisted activities

As the name suggests, animal-assisted interaction is carried out when an animal is brought in to help facilitate goals attainment in a therapy session. It has been well-researched that animal-assisted activities lower stress and anxiety levels.Ā 

Canines are usually involved as they are the first domesticated animals, and have evolved alongside humans, making them extremely sentient and perceptive of human emotions. Research has also shown that interaction with a dog itself is effective in lowering cortisol levels and can benefit individuals with psychosocial issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or mood disorders.Ā 

Chief Nurse at KTPH Shirley Heng, 48, said she is ā€œ100 per cent behind the idea of having a day for nurses to be visited by therapy dogsā€.Ā 

ā€œAnimal-assisted activities is very beneficial for everyone. Pets can offer much-needed stress relief. It has been proven that when you’re petting a dog or cat you release serotonin. Your heart rate decreases and so does your anxiety,ā€ she said, adding that the programme started because senior nurse manager Yvonne Yap ā€œhas the contactsā€.

And her contacts include member of parliament (MP) for the Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng and members of AAISG.Ā 

The healing power of animal-assisted therapy: When the dogtors make house calls
<em>MP for the Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng getting some therapy from the Dogtor Vera of AAISG Photo source KTPHFacebook<em>

ā€œIā€™m glad we organised this for our nurses who have been working so hard for all of us. It was very nice seeing them relax, play with the dogs and enjoy the session so much. It was absolutely beautiful to hear laughter in the air,ā€ Mr Ng told TheHomeGround Asia.

Visiting ā€œconsultantsā€ at several hospitals

KTPH was not the first stop for these canines. They had made two other stops ā€“ at the KK Women’s and Childrenā€™s Hospital (KKH) in July and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in early August.

Group Director for Staff Wellness at SingHealth Phua Ghee Chee told TheHomeGround Asia that at SingHealth, staff care is a continuous commitment that ā€œwe give priority to and we are always on the lookout for programmes that will foster a positive and joyful work culture and environment for our staffā€.

The healing power of animal-assisted therapy: When the dogtors make house calls
<em>All it takes is a hug or a pet given to the friendly dogtor can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall heart health It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect Photo source SingHealth<em>

Dr Phua said when AAISG reached out to the group to explore potential collaborations, it assessed and found that the programmes ā€œcould be a good avenue for stress relief and to bring joy to our staff, especially after a challenging period due to the Covid-19 pandemicā€.

Singhealth became the first public healthcare cluster to start this dog interaction programme and held the first two sessions at KKH and SGH.Ā 

Senior Nurse Clinician at SGH Pauline Leong said, “I used to own dogs as pets in my younger days and seeing the dogs at the session brought back many fond memories. It felt very soothing to interact with the dogs and pet them, and it made me feel warm and calm inside. That happy feeling lasted all through the day, even after I returned to work! I hope for more such initiatives as they really help bring joy at work.”Ā 

ā€œWe also have plans to hold similar sessions at Sengkang General Hospital and SingHealth Community Hospitals later this year. 150 staff have attended the sessions so far, and many have shared positive feedback about how they enjoyed interacting with the dogs and how they felt more relaxed after the sessions,ā€ Dr Phua added.

RELATED: In Conversation With: Viaano Spruyt, founder and CEO of Huddlehumans

Join the conversations on TheHomeGround Asiaā€™s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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