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Pet the Pooches, which started in May, aims to help nurses, doctors and the staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania take a breather and destress.

Credit: Courtesy of Robert Press/PEnn Medicine

“There is no medicine in the world like a dog licking your face,” according to one nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Heather Matthew, a clinical nurse specialist in the Emergency Department at HUP, has begun a “Pet The Pooch” program to provide hospital staff with a new way to relieve stress through animal therapy.

She started Pet The Pooch as a way to bring animals into the hospital to play with and brighten the days of her co-workers.

“Over the years I’ve done a lot of rescue work [with animals] and one day I decided that I desperately wanted a dog at Penn. I was desperate to get some sort of animal here,” Matthew said.

HUP already has a program that brings pets into the hospital, called HUPs Pups, which incorporates animal therapy into the lives of their patients. However, Pet The Pooch is the first program at HUP and the first of its kind in the country , to bring in animals for doctors, nurses and the staff.

Related: HUP takes steps to prevent nurse burnout

Matthew brought the idea for this program to AnnMarie Papa, clinical director of Emergency Nursing, who helped her shape the program and get it off the ground.

“Working in a hospital, no matter which department you work in, can be stressful, so we wanted to see if we could do something with animal therapy to help reduce that,” Papa said.

Instead of bringing in trained therapy animals, Matthews decided to work with the Philadelphia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“We partnered with the Philadelphia SPCA because we thought that it was something that was good for our staff and something we could do for the animals as well,” Papa said.

Not only is the program a great opportunity for hospital staff to destress, but it also gives the shelter animals a chance to interact with people and new surroundings.

Kathryn Giles, Annual Giving Manager for The Pennsylvania SPCA said, “It’s great for our animals to be able to get out of the shelter, we always work to socialize our animals with other animals and people and let them experience different situations.”

Related: HUP receives funding to train Penn nurses

Although the program only began last May, it has already been a “huge success,” Papa said. Once a month the Philadelphia SPCA brings in around three dogs, and has recently decided to bring cats as well in to HUP’s Center for Nursing Renewal.

Over 100 people have attended each event and every animal that has come to the hospital has been adopted within a few days of their visit — not by the HUP staff but by outsiders.

“We walked around with some of the dogs that we brought and people just stopped in their tracks to pet the pooch that was there. They felt the relief even just for a few moments,” Giles said.

A previous version of this article stated that the nurse’s name was Heather Matthews. Her name is Heather Matthew.

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