Two of Tri-City Medical Center’s 15 pet-therapy dogs on the hospital lawn.

By Glen Newhart

Animals are a natural source for smiles. Most of us probably can’t even count the times we’ve laughed at a viral cat video, watched a dog chase his tail, or curled up for a night in with our favorite pet. But in addition to bringing us joy — a boost to health in its own right — did you know that our furry friends have a proven and positive influence on our well-being?

More than half of pet owners say that simply spending time with Fido cuts down on their overall stress, while 44 percent report they focus less on specific sources of stress, like money or work. Research shows petting a dog increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin and decreases the stress hormone cortisol, and owners can enjoy a lower incidence of depression and a healthier weight. Pets also improve recovery rates from serious incidents and help maintain healthy blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels, lessening the risk for cardiac events and cardiovascular disease. And, for patients facing critical or terminal illness, interactions with animals can ease feelings of anxiety or hopelessness.

Glen Newhart, executive director of the Tri-City Hospital Foundation.

With statistics like these, it’s no wonder animal-based therapy programs are becoming more and more prevalent in care facilities and hospitals. One such program is based right here in San Diego County at Tri-City Medical Center. Tri-City’s pet therapy program employs a team of 15 therapy dogs, ranging from tiny lapdogs to standard poodles, who are carefully screened and trained to safely interact with patients throughout the hospital. Each year, about 6,000 patients in 13 departments are able to benefit from the soothing, healing presence of the Tri-City team of pups. Mary Gleisberg, pet therapy chair for the Tri-City Hospital Auxiliary, says it is her goal to reach 20 departments by the end of 2015.

Under the direction of the Tri-City Hospital Pet Therapy Coordinator, the auxiliary and its volunteers run the ins and outs of pet therapy, including screening potential pooches and attending visitations. The program and its fundraising efforts have had tails wagging from the start, and the auxiliary was recently honored with a Hospital Award for Volunteer Excellence from the American Hospital Association for its involvement in the Tails on the Trails Charity Dog Walk. A result of a partnership between the auxiliary and Tri-City Hospital Foundation, Tails on the Trails is a fundraising powerhouse for the pet therapy program, garnering $6,000 during its May 2014 debut.

This year, the event will bring better health and happiness to North County through the pet therapy program, the Special Care Foundation for Companion Animals, Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dogs for Wounded Warriors and Tri-City Hospital Foundation. Happening on May 30, Tails on the Trails invites pets and people to get moving for good, as well as enjoy K-9 squad demonstrations, live music, food and educational booths, adoption opportunities and more. Animal lovers will also have the chance to meet “celebrity” Jiff the Dog, who holds a Guinness World Record and considers stars like Katy Perry friends.

Even if your dog isn’t volunteer-ready or your time is scarce, making a difference in the lives of local patients is easy for two and four-legged members of the community — all it takes is a few steps!

Glen Newhart, a certified fundraising executive, brings more than 20 years of experience to his role as Tri-City Hospital Foundation’s executive director. Newhart has been honored with a number of prestigious professional recognitions and accolades, including being named one of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ “Outstanding Fundraising Professional” award winners. 

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