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Wanted: four legs, furry faces and wagging tails

Man’s best friend can also be man’s best medicine.

The wagging tails, sloppy kisses and paw shakes from a dog can bring much more than laughter to hospitalized patients — it can change the course of their recovery.

That’s why Florida Hospital’s volunteer pet therapy program is so important — and why the organization is recruiting more furry friends.

From Great Danes to Chihuahuas (and every pooch in between), more than 60 therapy dogs visit Florida Hospital’s patients each day, helping calm their nerves, distract them from the pain and aiding in other ways.

During rehabilitation sessions, patients have been known to say their first words to the dogs before they speak to the therapist.

“Interacting with therapy dogs takes the patient’s and their family’s minds off the hospitalization. They can laugh, smile and be happy; the dogs bring a sense of hope to a lot of patients and normalizes their stay,” said Meagan Krizek, volunteer services manager at Florida Hospital for Children. “We couldn’t be more thankful to our volunteers for making that a possibility.”

So what does it take to be a therapy dog? Prospects need to be at least one year old, house- trained, vaccinated, demonstrate basic obedience skills (such as sit and stay), and welcome strangers. All dogs must be licensed and bonded through Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International or Intermountain Therapy Animals.

Charmaine Sell and her labradoodle Wally have volunteered at Florida Hospital for 10 years.

“People from all walks of life interact with animals. There are no social, economic, language or handicap barriers. Dogs intrinsically know who needs help the most,” Sell said. “I am the conductor, but the dog is the music. I’m the one that sets it in motion, but the dog is the therapy.”

It’s not just the kids who find joy in dogs — pet therapy equally benefits adults.

“Having a volunteer program is wonderful because you don’t feel scared when volunteers come visit you,” said Paulette Myzel, director of Volunteer Services at Florida Hospital. “With volunteers, patients know it’s not going to be a blood test or something medical. They are there to chat with you, be with you and just care for you.”

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For media inquiries only, call Florida Hospital Corporate Communications at 407-303-5950.