By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Recently, through the generous donations of General Fire & Casualty Company, the underwriter for Pets Best insurance and Greg Mc Donald, the chairman of GF&C, the holding company for General Fire & Casualty Company, the Skeeter Foundation was revitalized. If you don’t know me, you are asking yourself, “What is a Skeeter?”
Skeeter is my miniature pinscher that I write about a lot. He and Torrey (my tea cup Chihuahua) travel with me daily to work and occasionally around the country to Veterinary Conferences. Skeeter and now Torrey are the daily reminders of why I am such an advocate of pets.
My wife, Vicki and I started the Skeeter Foundation in 2000 to fund and assist volunteers who take their certified therapy pets to hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and schools and to fund studies that prove scientifically the positive attributes of pet ownership. “Prescribe Pets Not Pills” is the foundation’s mission.
Of course we know that pets will not eliminate the need for humans to take pills. But we also knew from unscientific observations that pets make us healthier and happier. We witnessed people eliminating the need or decreasing the need for antidepressants, by the simple act of obtaining a pet. We also witnessed people that obtained pets, being less lonely, more fulfilled, meeting new friends, being discharged from hospitals quicker with less post operative pain and generally having a better outlook on life. My own personal observations during my bout with Cancer demonstrated other benefits of pets, such as distraction, entertainment, empathy and a complicated technique, the National Cancer Institute terms complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) . So, why not prescribe a pet instead of a pill, when it works?
Skeeter Foundation – The Start
A primary goal of the Foundation is to fund, organize and assist volunteer pet therapy teams to visit hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and schools. Helping volunteers to bring some joy to others who are under stress from health care issues or educate our youth about the value of pets in society. For me, it all started over 25 years ago when I made my first visit with a therapy pet to a hospital. As the therapy pet and its owner handler walked the isles of the hospital (I was an observer), a nurse came over to us and said she really did not have permission, but would we visit a child in one of the wards who was scheduled to see a psychiatrist, because of emotional trauma associated with post operative pain. The child refused to open her eyes, after surgery. The nurse explained that the parents, siblings, doctors and nurses were unable to get the child to open her eyes, despite any pleading, promises or encouragement. It seems the little girl thought the pain would return if she opened her eyes. After several days of urging, the doctors had finally recommended a psychiatrist be brought in the next day.
The volunteer of course obliged and went to the child’s room. The nurse told the child, “that there was a furry visitor here to see her, would she open her eyes and see the nice golden dog”. The little girl refused, whereupon, the dog walked over to the bed, pushed his nose and muzzle under the girl’s hand, as if to say “pet me”.
Immediately, the young girl opened her eyes and began talking, petting the dog and after about 15 minutes when we had to leave for the other visits, I can still remember her, jumping out of bed and running down the hospital isle, with the IV stand and tubes still attached telling us, “Don’t leave yet”. Nothing against psychiatry, but wasn’t this much better, cheaper and NO PILLS REQUIRED!
That episode inspired me to learn more about how pets affect us and how pets can make us healthier. No scientific studies had been done to validate the observations of me and countless others, but we knew something powerful when we saw it. Validating the positive effects of pets is another primary mission of the Skeeter Foundation; to fund scientific studies that measure the biochemical changes that occur between humans and pets.
The Skeeter Foundation is an all volunteer organization. My wife and I donate our time, mostly Vicki, to the foundation. The foundation has many volunteers who spend countless hours training and preparing their pets for hospital visits in effort to bring joy to others.