Dr. Jones, and therapy dog Finn, visited with patients at Forrest General’s Rehabilitation Center.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (April 30, 2021) – Finn, Forrest General’s newest canine recruit, has his own Forrest General badge. He carpools to work, drinks from his own water bottle and follows his instructor’s directions, for which he is rewarded with a peanut butter treat. He loves visiting with patients and performing for them and especially appreciates their doting on him. When everybody is happy, he wags his tail.
A Goldendoodle owned by neurologist, Keith Jones, M.D., Finn is one of two certified therapy dogs that currently work at Forrest General visiting patients. The other, Major Payne, is a Golden Retriever, who just turned five and is owned by Keri Ray Galey. Both have received special training which allows them to serve in a therapy dog capacity. The pups are currently allowed to visit everywhere in the hospital except ICU.
Unlike service dogs, which are designed for one person with a very specific purpose in mind, therapy dogs are trained to simply love on people and to help them along with any goals they might have, such as improving anxiety or dealing with depression. A therapy dog requires less stringent requirements than a service dog. As long as they are healthy, have a good temperament and are up-to-date on shots, they may be good candidates for training as therapy dogs. While people shouldn’t approach a service dog while it is on the job, a therapy dog like Finn and Major is trained and conditioned to react well with all people and animals. “People are welcome to come love and hug on them,” Jones said. “Finn craves that type of attention.”
Finn received training from the time he was 8 weeks old up until 20 weeks. “We hand-picked him out of a litter based on appearance and behavior with the sole purpose in mind to come up here and help out patients,” said Jones.
Galey entered the world of therapy dogs after taking Major Payne to a nursing facility where a family member, who suffered from dementia, lived. “Major Payne really perked her up, and she started remembering things — the names of family members, and her conversation became great,” Galey said. “We just took a leap of faith that this would be a good fit for us.”
For Galey, her visits to different places around town with Major Payne are more of a ministry. “I pray for him before we go anywhere,” she said. “I put my hands on him and I pray the Holy Spirit will work through us. Major Payne knows when the praise worship music comes on, that sets the tone for our adventure. We come in and hope we have God winks, and we do every time. We also see miracles happen, relationships form and a change of mindset for patients who seem really depressed. But once we arrive, all of a sudden they forget their pain and their ailments, and they start moving and smiling and it takes away the hurt for a little while. That’s our blessing, and we see it over and over again.”
Finn and Major Payne are both nationally certified. In addition to the dog being evaluated, the handler is also evaluated. “We come as a package,” Jones said. “Finn can’t visit in the hospital or nursing home without me.” Two of Finn’s tests were completed in a nursing home environment where there was a lot of stimuli going on. “That’s to make sure Finn wouldn’t react in a way that would stress him or the patients outs.”
Jones and Finn visit the hospital several times a month. In an agreement with the national organization, Jones is not allowed to bring Finn on campus during days he is on the job as a neurohospitalist. Galey and Major Payne spend a couple of hours in the hospital every week, paying a regular visit to Rehab on Fridays. As Galey makes her way from the front door up to the fourth floor, she’s constantly asking those she passes in the corridors, “Need some love from Major Payne?” “I don’t want to inflict him on anyone that doesn’t want a nuzzle,” she said. “That’s just showing respect.”
Finn’s main role is to show up at front door with a big smile on his face, greeting patients as they are waiting in line to have their temperatures taken, said Jones. “He walks in and he looks like a rock star with people gathering around him, wanting to hang out and take photos.”
Jones explained that some patients are depressed because of their illness or disabled due to an injury or stroke. “Or they simply may miss their own pets,” Jones explained. “Finn helps them to relax, be more positive and more open to their therapy session. But he also has an amazing effect on the staff.” Jones admits that it helps to recharge his own batteries as a physician and helps him target some of the patients he’s visited earlier in the week for pet therapy.
Amanda Lott, Jean Dillard and coworkers in FGH radiology think visits from Major Payne are the best. “He makes up so happy, and we definitely look forward to his visits,” Lott said. “And he’s a great stress reliever,” added Dillard, “and so cute.”
Both dogs sense love and happiness and provide unconditional love through the bonds they create with patients and employees. From wet kisses to wagging tails, Forrest General’s certified pet therapy dogs, Major Payne and Jack, are hospital favorites.
About Forrest General’s Therapy Dog Program: Forrest General’s Therapy Dog Program started in 2010 as a way to provide emotional support to patients, which often impacts physical healing, as well. Special policies and protocols were put into place to ensure the safety and well-being of patients, visitors, and staff.