Best Library Meeting Ever…because there were dogs!

dog and handler

A dog and handler at a Library meeting

Last week, I wrote about the South Central Library Council Annual Meeting and the inspiring presentation given by the current President of the American Library Association.  As we broke for lunch, part of the program for the second half arrived.  Dogs!  I mean handlers and their therapy dogs.  Immediately, the room became convivial and a lot of people, including me, forgot about lunch and headed straight for the dogs.

The second half of the program was led by Tina Winstead, the program coordinator for the Healthy Libraries, Healthy Communities  grant from National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Mid-Atlantic region.  The six month grant was aimed at educate and encourage libraries about healthy lifestyles in order to encourage programs aimed at their communities.  The program consisted of kick-off events, participation (and competition) in The Active for Life program sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  There was online book discussions and webinairs.

This meeting was the culminating event of the grant.  Dr. Sandra Barker, Director for the Center of Human and Animal Interaction (Chai) spoke about the activities of the Center and the health benefits of interactions with animals.  Any woman who can name her center after my favorite tea blend and loves animals (did you notice her last name?!) has got to be interesting and savvy.  The Center is attached to a  VCU’s medical center and the Department of Psychiatry.  Her talk, “The Human-Animal Bond and Health:  Implications for Healthy Libraries, Heathy Communities.

The “Dogs on Call” program supports the research studies as well as the therapy at the medical school.  The dogs, adult only, must pass rigorous requirements including grooming and nail-cutting within 24 hours of each visit.  They must pass the Medical Center Volunteer training — and by they, I mean the dogs and the handlers — and they must register with one of two external programs:  Pet Partner’s Program or Therapy Dogs Inc.  In addition, they must complete Chai’s Dogs on Call training program.  It’s a lot of work just to get in the door!

The program has few restrictions on who the dog can visit and is careful about allergies and people who are afraid of animals.  Physicians must approve visits for people with infectious diseases, open wounds, IV, and emergency areas.  The dogs don’t visit the cafeteria, probably to their great disappointment.  Patients with a history of violence are also not visited.

The Center had done many studies with psychiatric students, with children who have cancer and other difficult diseases, and they have also studies the stress relieving benefits.  These interactions do support the notion that interactions with companion animals are of a benefit to people, “A consistent relaxation pattern was found among the physiological measures following interactions with dogs [from the distributed PowerPoint handouts].

therapy dog and handler

therapy dog at the library program

They have also studied dogs in the workplace –companies that allow their employee to bring dogs.  It was a small study but it got picked up by the media so the Center enjoyed a little more than 15 minutes of fame.  As Dr. Barker pointed out, more study is needed.  The results indicated that the participants scored higher on the indicators of job satisfaction including pay, communication, promotion, benefits, rewards, and operational procedures [paraphrased from the distributed handout].

One of their studies interested me  because it dovetails with my college’s Paws for Stress Relief end of the semester programs; our library partnered with PAWS for the Spring 2013 program and plans to continue.  The question the Center explored was “Does interacting with dogs really de-stress college students?  One of the posters said, “Be calm and Pet a Pooch.”  The results indicated that there was a significant difference in stress levels, that 93% experienced a decrease in stress.

Overall, the researchers at the Center have found that there are strong physical and mental health benefits for interacting with dogs including reduced mortality, reduced pain perception, increased physical activity, improved cardiovascular function, reduced depression, anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness and increased prosocial behavior, social support, and empathy.

By extension, libraries who run similar programs may well be able to help with some issues that patrons experience including [excerpted from the distributed handout]:

  • decrease stress, anxiety, and loneliness for patrons
  • decrease employee stress
  • create a more inviting and relaxed atmosphere
  • attract new users
  • and increased interaction in small groups and with group leaders

Dr. Barker made some recommendations to libraries who may be thinking of implementing a program that includes companion animals [excerpted

  • develop policies and procedures before launching activities and programs
  • establish requirements for animals and owners
  • determine appropriate times and locations
  • do a risk assessment
  • address people’s’ allergies and fears
  • educate the public
  • start small and build on success

    An old therapy dog named Sam

    An old therapy dog named Sam

The session ended with  applause and free apples from a local orchard.  I never did get a picture of the golden retriever, the owner and the dog were so popular I couldn’t get a good snap.  As someone who used to have a golden retriever mix, I know their sweet and loving personality is always wonderful to be near!  A day well spent in a world full of library goodness…and dogs!  Two of the best things ever.