Mary Free Bed’s therapy dog helps patients with recovery

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --  Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital has a new addition to the team, and it's a furry one.

The hospital recently welcomed Vandy, a 3-year-old black lab, to help patients on their road to recovery. She is the first dog trained in animal-assisted intervention by PAWS with a Cause, a national non-profit based in Michigan.

Vandy helps patients like 7-year-old Emmitt Baggett, who has cerebral palsy, strengthen his core, leg muscles and stand with his knees apart.

The therapy dog is finding new ways to help patients recover after undergoing surgery, helping build muscle form and learn how to walk again. Vandy helps encourage Baggett to take part in exercises such as playing cards and having the dog jump through hoops, designed to teach Baggett to keep his back straight.

"I kind of love her," said Emmitt. "She keeps my spirits up."

Vandy puts a smile on everyone's face, not just because of how cute she is, but also because they can see the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.

“He [Emmitt] doesn’t know he’s getting a work," said Emmitt's father Jason Baggett. "He’s having fun with him. She helps him with his core, all the way around, keeps him busy, keeps his mind off things.”

Vandy can also help patient's practice speech by giving verbal commands. Regardless of a patient's age, Vandy's training can help not only physically, but also emotionally and cognitively.

"She can work a dog puzzle, we have clients that work on leading her, we have clients that work on brushing a dog like they do at home [to improve hand strength]," said Mary Free Bed certified recreational therapist Deb Brewer.

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