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Pet-Assisted Therapy Program

Meet Pistachio, WakeMed’s Only 4-Legged Employee

Pistachio-Pet-Therapy.jpgPistachio (aka Stash) is a facility dog who works along side his handler, Elizabeth Penny LRT/CTRS, Licensed/Certified Recreation Therapist, in the WakeMed Rehab Hospital.

You'll recognize him by his work uniform: his vest, WakeMed ID badge, CCI ID badge and flat collar with ID. 

As a fully trained service dog, Stash currently knows many commands aimed at helping people become more independent in therapy as well as in their home and community. 

At WakeMed, Stash helps patients with many types of therapies, but he also shows adults with physical disabilities what it is like to have a service dog.

About Canine Companions for Independence

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.

Volunteers are key to CCI's success.  All puppies are born close to CCI's headquarters to breeder dogs and are raised by volunteer families until 18 months of age.  The dogs then attend a nine-month Advanced Training course. 

The first two weeks of Advanced Training, dogs are screened, undergoing x-rays and medical tests as well as tests to evaluate their temperaments. Some dogs are released at this point due to medical or temperament problems. The others continue their training.

Only 35% of dogs graduate!

How WakeMed Met Pistachio

The Application Process for Canine Companions for Independence is 6-12 months.  Following a lengthy interview process, resulting in a two-week training.  There, Penny met Stash for the first time and learned the details of her job as his handler.  Thanks to the The WakeMed Foundation, a grant was funded for Stash's and some of his expenses.

After many hours of lectures, training, and outings and busy malls, Penny returned home with the newest member of the WakeMed Rehab staff - and her household.  Stash lives with Penny and her family, coming to work with her every day. He will work for eight years at the Rehab Hospital (three hours a day), under the ownership of CCI, and then retire to the Penny household as their family dog. 

Stash’s Work with Patients

Stash works with patients at WakeMed in a clinical setting to help them regain their health, function and independence.  Specific rehabilitation goals in the "PAT" Pet Assisted Program include:

  • Improve memory
  • Improve word retrieval
  • Improve sequencing skills
  • Improve socialization
  • Increase auditory comprehension
  • Increase verbal spontaneous speech
  • Increase motivation for participation
  • Increase attention
  • Improve use of upper extremities
  • Improve ability to interact with dog
  • Improve use of gestures in language
  • Improve articulation
  • Improve sitting balance
  • Improve gait training
  • Decrease situational depression

Occupational Therapy patients can help increase fine motor skills by grooming Pistachio, brushing his teeth, massaging him and playing fetch.  Special modifications are made by using special mitts or raising tables to fit each patient's needs. 

Physical Therapy patients can increase standing balance and endurance by playing fetch and helping Penny walk Pistachio inside or outside the facility.

Speech Therapy patients can improve short term memory, word retrieval, problem solving, sequencing, and increase breath support by giving Pistachio commands, following command steps, and remembering information.

Recreation Therapy patients can improve their social skills, practice previous skills, complete problem solving and math problems, decrease depression, increase self confidence and motivation, give commands, play fetch, and participate in opportunities for socialization, creative writing, and art/drawing projects. 

*Remember, if you see Pistachio, please do not pet him without asking his handler first. 

For more information about services offered through WakeMed Rehab, please call 919-350-7876