Facility dog helps patients complete rehabilitation exercises

    Travis, UofL Hospital facility dog with Cathy Gerrish
    Travis, UofL Hospital facility dog with Cathy Gerrish

    He’s one of UofL Hospital’s newest employees. Travis, a facility dog, helps put patients at ease while motivating them during physical or occupational rehabilitation.

    This blonde Labrador can toss a balloon or roll a ball with patients, and even sit still, allowing patients to  brush him – encouraging functional tasks.

    “Travis brings a great deal of comfort to patients who are in pain,” said Cathy Gerrish, Travis’ facilitator and UofL Hospital physical therapist. “He encourages them while they are on machines like the recumbent bicycle and really motivates patients to perform tasks that can be rather difficult for them.”

    Facility dogs, says Gerrish, are very different than therapy dogs.

    “Facility dogs are considered working dogs and come to the job each day with a specific purpose. In Travis’ case, he assists patients in exercises including range of motion, strengthening and balance,” she said.

    Gerrish explains that therapy dogs are brought in by volunteers primarily to provide comfort to patients and staff members.  

    “But as a facility dog, Travis has a set of cues he depends on from his handlers and needs to stay focused on the task at hand. He must be ‘released’ in order to go over and visit a patient or staff member,” Gerrish said.

    Travis works four days a week and divides his time between physical therapy and occupational rehabilitation at the UofL Physicians Outpatient Center.

    Each day, Travis gets “dog time” during the lunch hour when Gerrish takes him out to fetch a ball or take a walk downtown.

    Travis lives and works with Gerrish, but is owned by Paws with Purpose, a non-profit organization that provides highly skilled assistance dogs as partners to children and adults with physical disabilities or other special needs.

    Julie Heflin
    Julie oversees digital content for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She began her UofL career on the Health Sciences Center campus in 2007. Prior to this, Julie was a journalist with WFPL (Louisville Public Media), and occasionally filed reports for National Public Radio.