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When NOT to Help…

—Isa Helfrich, German Shepherd & therapy dog (and Deb Helfrich, Vice President)

Download PDF version.

QUESTION: What can (should) I do for patients during a therapy dog visit? For example, an elderly woman I was visiting asked me for a drink of water. – Chuckles, Golden Retriever

ANSWER: Very important question—thanks for asking it! To quote our guideline on this, “Never give food or beverage to patients, even if they ask. Likewise, never move or reposition a patient or their medical equipment. Find a nurse.” (you can find all of our guidelines at http:// therapydogs.org/guides.html. Click on the “Policies Related to Handlers & Membership”)

So, if a patient asks you for water, food, or medication, politely let him/her know you cannot do this and offer to alert a nurse. Many patients cannot swallow safely or are on strict dietary regimes— and they may not even know they have any restrictions. Likewise, if a patient asks you to get him/ her out of bed or move him/her in any way, politely advise that you cannot do so and offer to let a nurse know. There may be injuries we do not know about which could be exacerbated by movement. Also, you may get injured trying to move a patient without help. This applies even to our volunteers who do have medical training!

Though you may want to help someone by fulfilling a request for water, food, or help to the bathroom, please do not. Always get a nurse. Stick to what you and your dog have been trained to do and know best—providing companionship and comfort through the therapy dog visit.

One last reminder. If any of you happen to see ME and I’m the one asking for a cookie (a steak, some chicken, a hot dog perhaps…)

THAT would be a perfectly acceptable request to fulfill. ☺

“Ask Isa” is a Q&A column appearing in the Therapy Dogs of Vermont quarterly newsletter. It is reproduced here for Therapy Dogs of Vermont website readers. It is not a substitute for seeking proper veterinary, training, or behavioral advice from professionals!