For the health care workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, lunch time is puppy time.
Rather than grabbing a sandwich or a cup of coffee, they decompress a little from the day’s highs and lows by cuddling puppies and kittens.
The idea for the program called Pet a Pooch — though there are also some friendly felines — came from Heather Matthew, an emergency room nurse at the Philadelphia hospital. She said unwinding from a particularly overwhelming day started when she got home and spent time with her bull dog, Annabella.
“Health care is an incredibly stressful field, from the medical intensive care [unit] to the emergency [room] to the newborn nursery,” Matthew said. “It’s stressful.”
So in 2013, Matthew came up with the program to help ease her coworkers’ stress.
She recruited the Pennsylvania SPCA to bring puppies and kittens to the hospital where, during their lunch hours, anyone could drop by and hold, pet and love a furry animal.
“The pets that come, they’ve been abused, neglected,” said Jerry Buckley, president of the PSPCA. “I think the staff has a special affinity [for them.] … The patients they deal with are also the most vulnerable.”
Emergency room nurse Joyce Finnegan even adopted a pet — a chocolate Lab named Bo.
“The minute I saw him, I had to get him,” she said. Ten animals have been adopted, thanks to the program.
Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist working 12 to 14 hours a day, said he took an hour off once a month to hang with the animals.
“A lot of the staff need some sort of calming effect,” he said.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘I walked in here with the worst headache and I instantly feel better,’” Matthew said. “And that’s the goal. … They go out and they finish their workday and they then go on to provide even better care for their patients.”