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Animal-assisted therapy

Two women petting a small therapy dog.The goal of UK Integrative Medicine & Health is to assist patients in reaching their health and wellness goals by focusing on the whole person – body, mind and spirit. Animal-assisted therapy is one of the many services we offer that not only offers a sense of comfort, but also has been shown to have significant health benefits.

  • What is animal-assisted therapy?

    Animal-assisted therapy, also referred to as pet therapy, is any practice that incorporates animals as part of a therapeutic process with the goal of positively affecting human health.

  • What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy?

    Animal-assisted therapy does more than just brighten spirits. Studies have shown that incorporating animals into the therapeutic process also can:

    • Lower stress-related cortisol levels.
    • Decrease anxiety.
    • Increase social functioning.
    • Reduce subjective pain levels.
    • Lower blood pressure and pulse.
  • Who can request animal-assisted therapy at UK HealthCare?

    Animal-assisted therapy is provided by the UK HealthCare Canine Counselors and is available to all inpatients throughout the UK HealthCare enterprise. This includes patients in the Kentucky Children’s Hospital as well as UK Good Samaritan Hospital.

  • What kinds of animals participate in animal-assisted therapy?

    The animal-assisted therapy program at UK HealthCare is currently composed of the Canine Counselors, a group of more than 25 therapy dog/ owner teams. The UK Volunteer Services staff and the animal-assisted therapy coordinator screen teams to ensure that each dog is well trained and suitable for hospital animal-assisted therapy work, has been evaluated and registered through a therapy dog organization, and is appropriately immunized and insured.

  • How do I request animal-assisted therapy at UK HealthCare?

    Animal-assisted therapy is available for all UK HealthCare patients, their families and caregivers. As a patient or caregiver, you may ask that a doctor, nurse or social worker refer you for animal-assisted therapy. Upon request, one of the Canine Counselor teams is dispatched at their earliest opportunity to your room for a visit. Therapy visits typically last about 15 minutes.

  • How much does animal-assisted therapy cost?

    Animal-assisted therapy is a cost-free benefit that UK HealthCare offers to all of their patients, families and caregivers. The staff and faculty of UK HealthCare can also schedule visits for their area within the hospital facility.

  • About us

    The mission of the UK HealthCare Canine Counselors is to enhance and improve the experience of all patients, families, caregivers, faculty and staff by providing consistent and compassionate animal-assisted therapy interactions. The core values of the UK HealthCare Canine Counselors are centered around service, education and research. We strive to use each interaction as an opportunity to provide the unique restorative experience that only animal-assisted therapy can offer. We strive to foster animal-assisted therapy related education and continually seek prospective research opportunities to further establish the efficacies of our non-invasive, healing means of care.

  • Meet us

    Susan Pressly Lephart, PhD, animal-assisted therapy coordinator

    Susan spent 25 years in nonprofit leadership, sports medicine and research after receiving her PhD in exercise physiology and sports medicine from the University of Pittsburgh. Upon moving to Lexington three years ago, her interests as an amateur dog trainer with her two Welsh springer spaniel therapy dogs, Inde and Boogie Woogie, led her to volunteer service at UK HealthCare. She recently joined the Integrative Medicine & Health program as the coordinator for the growing animal-assisted therapy program. She is focused on advancing the development of this program and also on conducting future research to further establish its efficacy.

  • Contact us

    For more information on Canine Counselors and animal-assisted therapy, please contact Susan Pressly Lephart, PhD, animal-assisted therapy coordinator at 859-323-4325 (HEAL) or sp.lephart@uky.edu.