Sutter Auburn Faith, Kaiser Roseville hope to expand pet therapy programs

By: Tricia Caspers of the Auburn Journal
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Do you think your pooch has what it takes to brighten a hospital patient’s day? If so, contact Kathy Montgomery for the Paws-on-Call program at Sutter Auburn Faith at or

or Kim Bakken at Kaiser Roseville at

Dogs improve everybody’s day, and they especially brighten a room for the ailing as well as those who tend to them: doctors, nurses and family.

“Pets lift a patient’s mood,” said Dr. Sivakumar Reddy, oncologist at Sutter Hospital in Roseville. “They really cheer people up … and take their minds off of their medical issues.”

Many patients have dogs at home that they’re missing, and a visit with a pup helps ease that heartache, said Kathy Montgomery, head of the Paws-on-Call pet therapy program at Sutter hospitals.

Some studies show that petting a dog also releases hormones that help decrease a patient’s pain.

While the pet therapy program is currently available at a few Sutter hospitals, including Sutter Roseville, Montgomery hopes to expand it to Sutter Auburn Faith soon.

Kim Bakken, manager of volunteer services for Kaiser Roseville, hopes to increase the number of dogs that visit at Kaiser as well.

But it’s not easy finding the perfect dogs.

They have to be able to handle wheelchairs, objects dropping, rough petting and a variety of new scents.

For every 100 dogs and humans who volunteer for Sutter’s Paws-on-Call program, as few as two will be accepted, Montgomery said.

That’s because the dogs not only have to go through obedience training, they – and their handlers – have to pass additional hospital training as well.

There’s a similar process at Kaiser, said Kim Bakken, manager of volunteer services at Kaiser Roseville.

“It isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Bakken said. “It takes a really special team.”

In addition to training, the therapy dogs have to endure a thorough bathing that may take hours, depending on the breed of dog, and includes teeth and claw cleaning.

Handler Steve Lausmann even created dog rain boots for his bearded collie, Bailey, so that during a storm Bailey’s feet won’t get muddy on the way into the hospital.

“It’s not just an easy-breezy thing,” Bakken said. “But it is very rewarding.”

Montgomery has experienced those rewards. She’s seen Mickey, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, ease the tension in a highly charged hospital room. She’s had family members of patients approach her in the parking lot and invite her to the hospital room of their loved ones for a surprise visit.

She’s had recovered patients, years later, approach her in the grocery store to say thank you again for how her visit with Mickey brightened their day.

The one real challenge besides finding enough dogs to participate, Bakken said, is walking out of the patient rooms.

“It’s hard to say goodbye when people want to spend time with a pet,” she said.

Reach Tricia Caspers at