The practice has begun integrating therapy dogs into their healing routine, and both staff and patients are reporting positive results.
"I think the dogs benefit the staff as much as anyone," said Clinic Manager Laura Miller. "They make the employees' day, and they really calm us down."
The two golden retrievers, Honey and Karma, are licensed through Pet Partners, and are owned and managed by volunteer Marla Sipes, who brings the two animals to the doctor's office several times a month.
On Monday, Sipes brought Honey, a two-year-old golden retriever, to the practice, and walked with her as she made the rounds, snuggling up against nurses, doctors, and patients, imparting her own furry form of therapy.
Sipes is the only licensed Pet Partners evaluator in the area, and has been working as an animal therapy volunteer since 2001. She also takes Honey and Karma to San Juan Regional Medical Center, several assisted living facilities such as the Bridge and Cedar Ridge, and helps the dogs work with hospice patients whenever she has the time. She works full time as a special educator with medically fragile children in the Central Consolidated School District. So far, Pinon Family Practice is the only such office locally that has integrated the therapy dogs into their patient-care program.
"All of the animals registered as therapy dogs through Pet Partners have to go through training," said Sipes. "We observe how they react around noise, in crowds, if they're given a restraining hug, and make sure they are going to demonstrate non-aggressive, predictable behavior."
Miller said the dogs have a noticeable effect on the patients, many of whom are nervous when they come in for medical care. Some of the patients are children from Childhaven, and are frightened of adults and nervous about seeing a doctor.
"Marla will bring the dogs in, and even though these kids have been through a lot of trauma, the dogs really help to calm them," said Miller.
The idea of integrating dog therapy into the practice came from Sipes' friend, Vicki Whittaker, who works as a transcriber at the practice. Whitaker once had therapy dogs and worked with Sipes in this area in the past.
"Not just any dog can be a therapy dog," said Whittaker. "There's information online at Petpartners.org about how to register an animal. They'll even register cats, bunnies and other rodents as therapy animals."
Holly Abernethy, a physician at Pinon, was also instrumental in bringing the therapy dogs to Pinon, and said the practice is open to exploring alternative healing methods.
"There have been so many studies about how dogs help bring down people's blood pressure. If we can find a way to affect things like blood pressure without using medicine, that's a really positive pathway to healing," she said.
On Monday, as Honey made her rounds, she walked directly toward one of Abernethy's patients, leaning against her legs and gazing up into her face. The woman leaned down and hugged the dog, saying, "I really needed that."
"This patient was very nervous," about the treatment they were discussing, said Abernethy. "Honey seemed to know that instinctively, and made a bee-line toward her. It really helped her feel better. There are all different kinds of therapy, and using animals is definitely one of them.
Aside from the therapeutic benefits dogs give people, Sipes said the dogs are also reaping some rewards.
"Animals need jobs too, and they need to have something to do. It's great to give them a job, and to share this special gift they have with those who need it."
Sipes said any breed of dog can become a therapy dog if it has the right temperament. Those who believe their dog might make a good therapy dog, or who want to find out more about the therapy dog program, can contact Sipes at 505-486-4231.