HOUSTON (May 01, 2013)

At Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, one of the most special and unique volunteer partnerships are those with two local pet therapy organizations - Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs and Faithful Paws of Houston.

Each week, the animals - accompanied by their human counterparts - visit the hospital, to the delight and excitement of the patients, guests and staff. The compassion and dedication shown by these special groups has inspired the Volunteer Services team at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center to honor their healing efforts by displaying portraits of these furry volunteers in the hospital's newly created Rick Smith Art Gallery.

The art gallery, which was created in memory of the hospital's late director of Chaplaincy Services, Rick Smith, is located near the main lobby of Memorial Hermann-TMC.

The new installation in the gallery, entitled "PAWS & effect," features photographs and biographies of the pet therapy animals that consistently visit the hospital.

"We wanted to showcase the animals that truly brighten the day of our patients and their loved ones," said Craig Cordola, chief executive officer of the Memorial Hermann-TMC Campus. "We are proud to partner with pet therapy organizations and appreciate their dedication and service at our hospital."

To achieve this, Memorial Hermann-TMC enlisted the creative services of local photographer Robyn Arouty. Arouty is a commercial and portrait photographer who specializes in creating modern lifestyle representations of people and animals.

"It was very important to me to capture all of their spirits and personalities. From a stoic Andie, to a playful Tator Tot, to a confident Rio; I hope everyone has a chance to see these 20 beauties on display," said Arouty. "What a complete honor it was to be part of this project."

For the pet therapy organizations that bring the animals to the hospital, the art gallery highlighted the extensive work they do.

Bright and Beautiful, founded in 1998, is an organization dedicated to training, evaluating and qualifying owners and their well-behaved dogs to visit rehabilitation facilities and hospitals in the Greater Houston area.

Joan Lawrence, Bright and Beautiful Houston-area director, loves spending time with the organization because she's witnessed first-hand the healing effects of the animals.

"Animals have the ability to take people's minds off of their current situation. You can see a physical change in demeanor when animals visit; the patients seem happier, lighter and genuinely enjoy the company," said Lawrence. "A perfect example of this is when we had a dog that only had three of its legs and he happened to visit a pediatric patient who was struggling with the loss of one of his legs as well.

After the boy saw the dog move, jump, play and interact with others, he knew that he would be able to do the same thing and that he was going to be OK."

Sponsored by the Bellaire United Methodist Church, Faithful Paws was founded in 1997 to use trained animals to bring unconditional love and support to those who may need it. Most of their certified pets are dogs, but they also have cats, rabbits and other furry or feathered friends who volunteer. Organization members come from all over the city to spread joy and bring companionship to over 40 local hospitals and healthcare facilities. "We drive from Spring, but the time on the road is well worth the smiles and reactions we get from patients, families and staff," said Betsy Stuckey, a Faithful Paws member who visits the hospital with her 5-year-old Sheltie, McTavish.

"Paws & effect" is the gallery's third art installation since it opened in 2012. The first exhibition, "Portraits in Healing," featured paintings and sculptures by the late Smith and Memorial Hermann-TMC employees. The most recent exhibition, "M.D. Art," featured photography and mixed media by the hospital's affiliated physicians.