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.”
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.