Therapy animals bringing joy to hospital patients

University Health System's Paws up Pet Therapy Program has 13 pets

SAN ANTONIO – University Health System's Paws Up Pet Therapy Program is bringing smiles to hospital patients’ faces.

The pets, which were once shelter dogs and cats, are now bringing comfort and emotional support to those being treated at the hospital, especially children.

"It just helps them throughout their stay," said Monica Gibson, child life specialist for University Health System. "You can tell their eyes light up when they see the animals. It just makes them more comforted.”

“It’s very important because it just makes them feel at home," said Hortencia Castano-Urbanowiez, director of volunteer services for University Health System. "(It's) similar to someone having a pet at home that they’re missing.”

This week, KSAT crews followed Zane Grey, a therapy cat, and Bonnie, a therapy dog, as they made their rounds around the hospital.

Zane was left at Animal Care Services at 8 days old, until San Antonio Pets Alive saved him. At 8 weeks old, Beverly Oakes, with Therapy Animals of San Antonio, adopted him.

“I saw this little kitten with a bunch of others, and he was laying on his back and very relaxed," Oakes said. "I said, ‘That one needs to be a therapy cat.’”

Currently, University Health System's Paws Up Pet Therapy Program has 13 pets on board, including Zane and Bonnie, but organizers are always looking to expand.

“We’re always recruiting pet teams," Castano-Urbanowiez said. "It’s intensive, but very worthwhile."

About the Author:

Stephanie Serna is a weekday anchor on Good Morning San Antonio and GMSA at 9 a.m. She joined the KSAT 12 News team in November 2009 as a general assignments reporter.