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Dogs making the rounds at local hospitals to help patients

Petting a dog can help calm humans and relieve stress

NEW ORLEANS — While doctors and nurses can help people in the hospital with their physical ailments, they can't take away the emotional ones.

One of those is missing the unconditional love of the pet you left behind. Thankfully, there are special pets making the rounds at Ochsner.

"Would you like a pet visit?" asks Greta Johnson with Pet Partners as she walks in a hospital room with Jessie her Golden Retriever.

Luke Bertel, 10,  has been in the hospital for a month. He misses his dogs at home in Covington, but today, Jessie the Golden Retriever is taking his mind off of his leukemia treatments

"It felt good because I have four dogs of my own. I miss them so much. And it's like, I just wish that I could be with them right now, but the next best thing is getting to see all the other dogs," Bertel said.

Greta Johnson is with Pet Partners. One of the many pet therapy programs that comes to see patients at Ochsner Hospital. She says she's just holding her best friend's leash and in return is rewarded with smiles and happiness.

"Oh gosh, patients are eternally grateful. They love a visit. They love Jessie. Dogs don't judge. Dogs don't care if you're showered. They don't care what you look like. They love. They just love, unconditional love," Johnson said.

"Also the grown ups just get to see a dog, that they probably have at home, that they're missing. They get to get the next best thing," Bertel said about how he thinks adults love the visits as much as children do.

And that's exactly what was happening in another wing of Ochsner. A grown up from the Mississippi Gulf Coast is getting love from a different pet therapy group called Visiting Pet Program. Patient Richard Mizer got to hold Lil Bit, a Chihuahua and Taco Terrier mix, rescued by Fay Schultz after being near death in a ditch one cold winter.

"I mean, I've had dying people too who want to see the dogs. It can be difficult. I go home and cry sometimes, but it's so rewarding," said Schultz, who has been part of the volunteer program for 15 years.

"It really helps. It really does. It takes your mind off, calms you down. There's a lot of things that goes on in a days time in here, and it really helps calm you," said Mizer, who said his two dogs, Bear and Aspen, greet him at his vehicle every day when he arrives at home.

It is hard science that petting a dog releases Oxytocin, the social bonding, or cuddle, love hormone, while decreasing Cortisol, the stress hormone. And it happens in people and dogs. And that may be part of the reason why Luke knows exactly what he wants to do with Blue the pug when he finally gets home.

"I would like to lay down with him and take a nap," Bertel said.

Ochsner Hospital wants to grow the pet therapy program. If you'd like to donate or get training in one of the volunteer programs, click here or call

More on joining one of the three separate groups that go to Ochsner. They each have different requirements for training to be part of the pet therapy program: