Emotional support animals are well known and documented among hospitalized patients. Up until now, the use of support animals has largely been confined to healthcare consumers, leaving hospital staff members out of the loop. With the ever increasing number of Nurses leaving the profession due to burnout and attrition, one western NC hospital has pioneered the use of emotional support animals within the Nursing staff. Western North Carolina Medical Center (WNCMC) is now providing staff nurses with the emotional support animal of their individual preference and need.
ED Triage Nurse Margie McLean and her support animal Rennie, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake have enjoyed great success and comfort now that Rennie accompanies her each day to the triage room. Now, when confronted with angry, belligerent, and rude patients, instead of breaking down in tears, Margie lets Rennie diffuse the situation. Margie says “Rennie is my best friend in triage. I let him hang around my neck with my stethoscope.” She states the first few days were difficult as Rennie tried to mate with her scope, but they got that worked out. Now, when a tense or threatening situation arises with a patient, “Rennie comforts me with that little rattle he does, and the angry patients just sit very still and don’t move or talk.” Margie goes on to say “my workplace stress has all but disappeared.” Hospital administrators have also sung praises for Rennie as sales of CroFab Antivenin have skyrocketed!
Nurse Jenny Lumbard also works in the ED. Her emotional support animal of choice is Harry the Hyena. Jenny says the source of her workplace stress is not being able to laugh hysterically at some of the things she has witnessed in the ED. Now, Harry does that for her thereby relieving that workplace stress. Jenny relates an incident where a male patient presented with an action figure toy firmly inserted in his rectum. Jenny says “when I tried to tell that patient that GI Joe didn’t actually mean GI, I thought I was going to die laughing. Instead, Harry began howling and laughing uncontrollably.” Lumbard states she would have surely lost her job if she had guffawed as loudly as Harry. Harry seems to love his new job as he is always there to provide much needed laughter as well as cleaning up food scraps from patients’ beds.
Sometimes, the source of stress and anxiety among nurses doesn’t actually come from patients. Staff bullying by doctors and other providers is a common and heartbreaking occurrence in the hospital environment. Med-Surg Nurse and educator Mandy Malone now has the loyal support of Clarence the Coyote. Coyotes are stealthy, fast, and ghostlike predators. This makes them an ideal choice for support in the face of a rude, condescending, and loudmouthed doctor. Mandy says she doesn’t actually see Clarence until the need arises. She goes on to talk about a recent incident where a well know physician had decided to “curse me out in public in the middle of the hallway.” It was then that “Clarence suddenly appeared out of nowhere” and sat between her and the angry doctor. “He growled and bared his sharp fangs at the doctor who immediately screamed and ran back down to the doctor’s lounge for the rest of the day.” Mandy says “it’s a real pleasure coming to work now that I am never bullied anymore.”
Other research is in work using animals not only for emotional staff support, but also for patient motivation. Syd the Scorpion is currently in training to assist reluctant patients out of bed for ambulation and exercise. The results of Syd’s training are promising.