Patients, parents find joy in therapy dogs 


April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day, a time to recognize all of the therapy animals that partner with their human companions to bring comfort and healing to those in need.

The therapy dog program at IU Health North Hospital in Carmel includes eight dogs as well as a hospital facility dog, who visit with patients six days a week to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and increase endorphins in hospital patients.

CIC HEALTH 0507 Therapy Dogs
From left, Melissa McCoy, therapy dog Alpine and Sarah Kosten, a pet escort who is also McCoy’s daughter, pause at IU Health North Carmel. (Submitted photo)

Alpine, a 7-year-old golden retriever, and her owner, Melissa McCoy, have been pet therapy volunteers for three years.

“We love coming here,” McCoy said. “We see kids, moms on bedrest, post-op patients and a variety of people. The hospital has been extremely supportive of us. Once a year we do a big parade through the whole hospital.”

Alpine and McCoy regularly see the same people each week, such as patients like 11-year-old Declan Mitchell, who was diagnosed with Hunter syndrome. With the disease the body doesn’t have enough of the enzyme iduronate 2-sulfatase. He receives weekly infusions of Elaprase at the hospital.

“We’re here for about four hours each Friday. I can tell when the dogs come on to the floor just by his reaction,” his mother, Sarah, said. “He loves to see Alpine. He just lights up. He likes the humans that come with the dogs just as much.”

Sarah said she feels Alpine and her teammates often benefit the parents as much as the children.

“We always appreciate seeing them,” Sarah said. “(Declan) can get a little bored toward the end of his infusion. So, it always makes him feel special like he is getting special visitors on a consistent basis. It just really raises all of our spirits.”

Any patient is welcome to request visit from the therapy dog team. Contact guest relations at 317-688-2042 to learn more.