The dog/handler teams provide multiple benefits to this dynamic atmosphere. Dog-human interactions can improve mood, have a measurable calming effect, lower blood pressure and heart rate and stimulate other factors to promote healing. Dogs also have the capacity to be friendly, approachable and sociable with patients, families and employees, but can provide protection as well.
With any project, especially in tough economic times, funding is an issue. But creative thinking with regard to potential prospects is not unusual at IU Health Methodist. Over 100 years ago, a gift of $4,750 from a Methodist church youth group was the seed from which the hospital grew. Who would have thought of children building a hospital? The same kind of people who, a century later, had a project they believed would interest a passionate dog lover!
Polly Horton Hix, a community leader and philanthropist was the perfect prospect. She had made gifts to the hospital before, but was highly interested in animals – especially dogs. Not only was she a supporter of the Indianapolis Zoo but her champion Great Danes had been shown and won at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. In addition, Polly is a retired Major with the Marion County Sheriff’s department.
According to Hix, “As an animal lover, breeder and owner of dogs, I know how much they give back to us. They bring us comfort, joy, unconditional love and attention.”
Establishing contact with Polly was also an unconventional strategy that worked. Knowing Polly’s history and passion, Methodist Health Foundation Development Officer, Hillary McCarley sent her an annual report with a handwritten note. It simply stated, “You and I share something in common – a love of dogs. We are starting a K-9 program at the hospital and we’d love your help.” McCarley is indeed a dog lover and has a therapy dog to assist her son. Two months later she received a return call. One week later, a face-to-face visit. Another ten months of discussions followed, culminating in a pledge to support the initial three years of this pilot program.