THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS (January 05, 2009)

Jackie Karr and Shintsa visit hospitalPatients and staff at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center recently met the hospital's newest volunteer - a 7-year-old Tibetan terrier named "Shintsa." Shintsa, a retired show dog, and her owner Jackie Kaar, a RN at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands, are the first certified therapy dog team to join the hospital's newly established pet visitation program.

"We anticipate that our patients and staff will experience tremendous benefits as a result of this program," said Steve Sanders, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands chief executive officer. "In fact, research indicates that interaction with an animal can lower a patient's blood pressure, reduce stress, increase optimism, improve morale, and speed the healing process."

Memorial Hermann The Woodlands credits Kaar in part for the creation of the program. After learning the hospital was interested in pet therapy, Kaar willingly volunteered her time and her dog to get the program started.

Dogs like Shintsa must be evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure they are healthy, up-to-date on vaccinations and well tempered before they can participate in Memorial Hermann The Woodlands' pet visitation program. Additionally, canine participants must be certified by a pet therapy certification organization.

Shintsa is certified by The Delta Society, an international, non-profit, human service organization that promotes human health and well-being through interactions with companion animals. Shintsa and Kaar earned the certification upon completion of didactic and skills labs.

In order for Shintsa to become a certified therapy dog, she not only had to master basic commands like "sit," "stay," and "heel," but she also had to learn how to comfortably and confidently maneuver around standard hospital equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers.

Currently, Shintsa and Kaar make rounds each Wednesday afternoon. However, the goal is to grow the program with additional handlers and dogs so that patients and staff can experience the healing benefits of pet therapy more than one day per week.