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Health Beat: Hospital dogs helping humans

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 26 2013 11:40:20 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 26 2013 05:22:09 PM CST

Some of the best hospitals in the country are going to the dogs, but it’s a good thing.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Some of the best hospitals in the country are going to the dogs, but it’s a good thing. Man’s best friend is helping patients and their families feel better and get well sooner.

Each week, Sunday – a golden-doodle – visits this Mayo Clinic Radiation Oncology waiting room. His job is to cheer up everyone he meets.

Diane Parisi’s husband was having spinal surgery. She was feeling sad and nervous before Sunday walked in. 

"He just turned my, it’s almost cliché, but he turned my frown to a smile," Parisi said.

Sunday's owner, Kristi Leonard, said her pooch lifts moods every day.

"Literally, the way peoples' faces light up. If they're just walking along and they see the dog, and it's just like a breath of fresh air," said Kristi Leonard, service chairwoman of the Caring Canines Program at Mayo Clinic, Florida.

Dogs don’t just make people feel better – they also have health benefits.

Interacting with man's best friend can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and improve lung function. One study showed heart attack patients with dogs were eight-times more likely to be alive a year later.

"It really changes the whole feeling of an exam room when the dogs come in," said Nancy Skaran, administrator of the Caring Canines Program at Mayo Clinic, Florida.

Zoe also visits patients and their families. Her owner takes time off work to volunteer. 

"It’s just the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had," said Linda Gibson.

They take their work seriously, but when the day's done, even the mightiest mutts get, well, dog tired.

The Caring Canines Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is run by volunteers. They currently have 18 dogs and owners that participate.

To qualify, the dogs have to be trained, evaluated, and registered with Pet Partners, a national organization and must also be up to date on their shots.

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