Does Man’s Best Friend Have A Place In Your Waiting Room?

What do dogs and feet have in common? Of course, there is the familiar whimsical reference (to feet) that has our patients complaining, “My dogs are barking.” Is that enough of a reason to believe that our four-legged friends belong in a podiatric medical office?

Before you make a hasty “Absolutely not!” judgment, let me share with you something I experienced as I stepped foot into the office of Martin Carey, DPM. There to greet me at the door when I arrived was Holly, his extremely friendly, mellow-yellow, golden retriever. After Holly gently invited me to pet her (instantly prompting my smile), she very obediently led me to the front desk, paused and walked back to the reception area, where she resumed entertaining the waiting patients.

While her presence did catch me off guard at first, I couldn’t help but take notice of the demeanor of this very successful practice. It was calming. Patients were not anxious, nervous or aggravated. They were not looking at their watches every five minutes or tapping their fingers if not called exactly on time like I see in so many other practices. Instead, there were laughter, smiles and joy. It was a happy environment and Holly was partially if not completely responsible.

“Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” said Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business and the chief investigator of a 2012 study of the effects of pet dogs in the workplace setting. “The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms.”1

Lower stress, reduced sick days, increased employee productivity, satisfaction and retention and overall improved communication. What employer wouldn’t want that? However, have you taken into consideration the negative criticisms revolving around the patient’s reactions to having a dog in their doctor’s office? These include the potential allergies, a perceived non-sterile setting and patients’ fear of dogs/animals.

Are these issues of concern to Dr. Carey? Of course. He does not deny that occasionally his staff faces a patient who is allergic or afraid of dogs, but the practice places visible “alerts” on their charts and Holly is in another part of the office for those visits. Although Holly calmly follows the doctor from exam room to exam room (and lies down behind the exam room chair), she is not there for any invasive procedures.

The three-member staff does not hesitate to chime in and confess that patients see Holly as “part of our team now.” When she is absent, patients express verbal disappointment and concern. In fact, the staff members find it amusing that there are a few patients who stop by just to see her without having appointments to see the doctor. “She is a source of comfort to older patients (particularly those who are widowed or chronically ill),” they say. “Kids love to get down on the floor and play with her, and even cranky old men can't help but smile when she walks over to get petted.”

I’ll admit that prior to my visiting this very unique and pleasant practice, I might have been in the “dogs don’t belong in a medical office” camp. However, after researching the healing power that dogs have and experiencing for myself the positive influence that Holly has on this doctor, staff and patients, I cannot deny that she gave this office an “at home” comfortable feeling. I get it. Just like their patients, I enjoyed being there. As the study from Virginia Commonwealth University suggests, the concept is not as farfetched as one might imagine.

Dr. Carey admitted, “I may have lost a patient or two over the last five years but I have gained many, many more.” There’s an old Irish saying in his office that influences his philosophy. It reads:

“May those that love us … love us, and those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts, and if He can't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping.”

Reference

1. Available at http://www.news.vcu.edu/news/Benefits_of_Taking_Fido_to_Work_May_Not_Be_... . Published March 30, 2012. Accessed Feb. 5, 2013.



rose verrekiasays: February 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I have met Holly and she is a great dog. She is very playful but also gentle. The dog is also very clean and beautiful. The patients all enjoy Holly.

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Denisesays: February 20, 2013 at 1:32 am

I like dogs on a case by case basis. The dog in your post above (Holly, the golden retriever) sounds lovely and I'm sure I would enjoy hanging out with her in the waiting room.

The problem I see here is, what happens when a patient arrives with her dog (seeing that it's a dog-friendly office), and the patient's dog isn't quite so lovely? Unfortunately, all dog owners think their dogs are great when we all know that some of them are lunatics. When you tell the patient that she can't bring her dog, even though Holly is allowed to be there, then you've insulted this patient's (lunatic) dog.

Along the same lines, what happens when three patients all show up at the same time with their dogs? Now you've got a full-blown menagerie in the waiting room, potentially with the dogs wanting to get a bit territorial with each other.

I think it opens up too many cans of worms but I'm glad it seems to be working out well for the particular doctor noted above.

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Thomassays: February 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Dogs do not belong in a medical office when the office has patient hours. Dogs belong in the home of the owner. You will NEVER see a dog in the office of an orthopedic surgeon, general surgeon, internist, cardiologist, family practitioner, etc.

Simply stated, you will never see a dog in the office of any MD, DO or DDS. It is just uncalled for.

But I will say it is OK for a dog to be in the office of a VMD or DVM.

Enough said!

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Amanndasays: February 26, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I encountered a similar situation when I asked my family physician for a referal to an infectious disease group for immunizations that I needed to travel to Haiti. He recommended a group and asked if I had any problem with dogs. I was surprised by the question but said no. He responded that the head partner there often brings his Great Dane .

I arrived at the office and sure enough a Great Dane walked toward me, looked up and headed to the front desk reception area so I followed her. She subsequently sat down next to the receptionist as if she had done her job. The waiting room of people laughed each time she got up to greet the next patient and direct him or her to the front desk. She did not leave the waiting area but this group of MDs had no reservations about her presence.

Like well behaved children, a dog in a waiting room can ease the tension of anxious patients.

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Lynn Homisaksays: February 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Thank you to all who cared to post a response. Amannda, I really appreciated your story! I never really expected to get a lot of LOVE from this particular blog post but regardless of where you stand on this subject, it is definitely becoming one that is getting more and more attention.

Since posting this, I read an article by Art Caplan from the NYU Langone Medical Center who said that a woman wanted her dog (a therapy dog) in the delivery room with her (and the dog was present when she gave birth). In addition to mine and Amannda's experience, a reader from New Jersey wrote privately to me to say that their OB/GYN brings her pomeranian to work everyday.

As I learn more about physicians (DPMs and MDs alike) who feel it IS okay (and even see the benefits) of bringing their dogs to the office, I'm thinking that maybe the phrase "never say never" has its place in this conversation.

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E. Haynessays: June 12, 2013 at 11:47 pm

We have a podiatry office and I bring our 10 lb. Morkie to work everyday. Maizy has been working for two years and not one negative comment. In fact, patients even stop in just to visit her and some make her homemade biscuits. They even call to make sure she will be at work on the day of their appointment. While the patients wait,they all chat with each other about their dogs and it makes for a very friendly atmosphere. They only problem is we get threatenen a half a dozen times a day that someone wants to "steal" our puppy.

By the way, my mother's PCP has a golden retriever in his office too.

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