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Fighting disease with Fido: LMC event showcases benefits of owning and interacting with a dog

West Columbia, SC (James Bowers) - Lexington Medical Center got a little more warm and fuzzy Tuesday, as the West Columbia hospital played host to an event showcasing the health benefits of canine ownership. A handful of therapy dogs of various breeds were present in the atrium area of the North tower at what LMC called its “therapy dog stress break.” During this event, participants received plenty of affection from the well-trained animals as Lexington Medical staffers and patients talked about their impact on patient’s health care as a whole. It was clear that the “medicine” was working, as smiles crossed the faces of the many attendees as they petted the various dogs. This was indeed an educational event, as doctors from the hospital’s heart center were on hand to provide information on the positive effects of having a four-legged friend. John G. Leech, LexMed’s manager of cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation, offered several ways that having a dog in your life can benefit your body. “Medical research has proven that owning a dog lowers stress by initiating the “relaxation response” in the body. It also reduces blood pressure, and walking the dog increases physical activity”, Leech said. The specialist added that he has recommended the purchase of a dog to his many of his patients. “Some people aren’t dog people though," Leech added. Information provided by the hospital stated that dog owners are less likely to be overweight or obese than non-dog owners. Also present at the event was Robert Michaelson, a volunteer in the hospital’s pet therapy program, and his mixed breed dog Scrappy. The black, shaggy, 12-year-old canine is a service dog to Michaelson, who suffers from Type 1, or what used to be known as juvenile or early onset diabetes. Scrappy possesses a remarkable ability to detect when Michaelson’s blood sugar is low and alert him to this through a “whinnying, crying” noise, prompting Michaelson to seek remedy. Additionally, Michaelson and Scrappy, who has passed the American Kennel Club’s canine good citizen test, have become a pet therapy team. The pair serve patients at LMC and its extended care facility, as well as special needs students at Lexington High School. Scrappy was recognized as Lexington Medical Center’s pet of the year in 2015. The retired high school teacher had initially adopted Scrappy from Columbia’s Animal Protection League in 2005, with the intention of training the once rejected dog to become “more adoptable” and be taken in by someone else once training was complete. Over time, Michaelson and Scrappy bonded and grew close. Eventually, the former teacher was advised by an employee at a local Petsmart that the pair had obviously had become a team and Michaelson somehow knew he just couldn’t part with Scrappy. The rest is history! The hospital provided numerous giveaway items for attendees on Tuesday, such as drink coasters and educational pamphlets to remind them about the importance of the program. These pamphlets explained and reminded those who participated just how important the pet therapy program is to the patients in the process of resting and recovering at LMC. Dog therapy falls under the broader category of animal assisted therapy. According to the website of CRC Health, animals are used in the treatment of a range of conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and dementia. Both the Cleveland Hospital and the Mayo Clinic, world renowned teaching and cutting edge treatment hospitals, say that animal assisted therapy is quickly gaining fans in medical sectors. It typically consists of little more than the animal; usually a dog, though some programs actually use more exotic animals such as dolphins for the practice, being introduced to a physically or mentally ill individual. Due to the pets non-judgmental, docile nature, the patient bonds with the animal, becoming relaxed, elated, and looking forward to the next session in most cases. The Mayo Clinic cites sanitation as a primary risk. Hospitals combat this with strict cleanliness rules. This hospitals say that the Center for Disease Control (CDC), has never received a sanitation complaint related to the AAT (pet therapy). Though psychiatric publications declare that evidence for the long-term outcome of animal assisted therapy is spotty at best, research is ongoing. The scene at Lexington Medical Center today was sufficient evidence that dogs do elicit positive emotions, at least in the moment. As one LMC staffer put it during Tuesday’s event at the hospital, “you can’t help but smile," To find out how you can become more involved in the volunteer programs at the Lexington Medical center in West Columbia call (803) 791-2000 or go to their website online at

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