Patients in the palliative care unit at the University Hospital in Göttingen are now allowed to take their dogs with them as a means of respite and to provide emotional support.
“It is a great way to have those you love around you,” hospital director Friedmann Nauck explained. “Because animals are also loved ones.”
The longterm benefits of having a pet have been reported on for some time. According to the Bremen-based Research Centre for Pets in Society, short-term effects are also pronounced.
“Contact with animals can have positive short term effects on humans, just as it has positive long term effects,” the centre's Kathrine Fichtel told The Local on Monday.
Reduction of blood pressure, heart rate and the amount of cortisol, a stress related hormone, are some of the effects Fichtel points out, saying that differences can be noticed from one minute to the next.
“The stronger the connection between pet and owner, the greater the effect one notices.”
At Göttingen University Hospital the dogs are not allowed to simply wander aimlessly through the building.
The rooms in the palliative care unit have direct access to terraces, explains Nauck. This way the patients can look after their pets without disturbing other people.
To visit, the dog must be healthy and that have previously lived with the patient.
According to Fichtel, research shows that hospitals have nothing to fear from welcoming our four-legged friends, as long as certain rules are adhered to.
“The Robert Koch Institute had done a study which shows that dogs do not pose a health risk in hospitals,” she says.
“As long as they are vaccinated, wormed and are well brought up, so that they don't jump up onto beds, there is absolutely nothing to be said against it.”
Pets are not just good for patients in palliative care, says Fichtel. They are also useful in psychotherapeutic treatments.
“Pets help build trust in a relationship,” she explains. “When an animal is present during a therapy session, it makes it easier for the patient to meet the therapist on friendly terms. It creates a totally different atmosphere.”
Not everybody is convinced though.
In most German hospitals canine companions are still strictly forbidden.
“In our hospital, bringing pets is prohibited according to hygiene standards which look after the patient's safety,” said a spokesman for Wolfsburg Hospital.
According to a spokeswoman for the health services in Lower Saxony, pets are categorically forbidden from entering hospital premises.
Göttingen hospital isn't the first to make headlines of this nature, though.
News outlets in Israel recently reported on a dog so upset at being split from its owner that it was allowed to stay with him in the hospital. Doctors at the Tel Aviv health facility allowed the long-haired cross-breed to stay in her owner's bed.