AORN Blog - The Periop Life

Adventures of a Periop Wonder Dog

Perioperative Pet Therapy

February 8, 2018     

The perioperative team at WellSpan York Hospital in York, Penn., has found an incredibly effective approach for reducing perioperative patient anxiety. It isn’t a medication. Instead, this anti-anxiety antidote has four legs, a wagging tail, and an irresistible face.

Known as the periop dog, Lulu is a five-year-old golden retriever-labradoodle mix certified as a pet therapy dog, who rounds during each of her shifts with her owner, perioperative manager Angela Uhler, MSN, RN, CNOR, NE-BC, a certified pet therapy handler.

They spend time with preop and postop patients, dispensing anti-anxiety therapy as only Lulu can provide—whether she is costumed and doing her best tricks or simply laying down and giving comfort.

“Sometimes just having a dog around in a hospital setting that feels foreign and scary can make a patient feel more at home and help lessen their anxiety and fear,” Uhler shares.

Perioperative staff members are also finding comfort, stress relief, and camaraderie with Lulu on “staff,” says perioperative educator Sarah Bosserman, BSN, RN, CNOR. “Lulu has become a team companion who brings us all together, even on the toughest days.”

Pet therapy programs continue to grow across patient care settings. While there is little study exploring pet therapy in the perioperative setting, this is a valuable area for further research because of the proven benefits of pet therapy for lowering blood pressure and reducing stress, which helps reduce pain and may aid recovery. If you’re considering adding a periop pet therapy program, there are many criteria and guidelines to weigh – but here are three examples of Lulu’s adventures that have made a difference for patients and staff.

Lulu the Perioperative Therapy Dog

Lulu, the Periop Wonder Dog making her rounds.

1. Lulu provided ongoing support for a perioperative patient who had to undergo multiple surgeries for painful wound debridement. The surgeon began asking for Lulu before surgery to help calm the patient, and after surgery to help her remain calm and better manage post-surgical pain.

2. After a perioperative staff member died suddenly, Lulu provided emotional support to the team and has since established herself as part of the family and an overall morale-booster. Staff brings her special treats and look for her each morning as part of their ritual for starting a positive workday.

3. Lulu takes team members outside for their breaks to walk and get fresh air, which also encourages activity and wellness among perioperative staff.

Ulher and Bosserman are exploring plans to conduct research on pet therapy in the perioperative setting. They agree that seeing Lulu’s power to reduce patient anxiety has inspired their team to explore other complementary therapies.

They are curious to explore any correlation between pet therapy, decreased cortisol levels, and faster healing. Lulu’s power to reduce perioperative staff members’ stress and compassion fatigue is another area they feel is rich for potential research.

Meet Lulu, Uhler, and Bosserman and learn how to incorporate pet therapy into your practice setting at their presentation on “Pet Therapy: Enhancing the Mind, Body, and Spirit ” at the Global Surgical Conference & Expo March 24, 2018 in New Orleans. Register now.