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The Power of Pet Therapy

The Power of Pet TherapyWhen Pippin prances into MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital, it’s hard not to notice and immediately break into a smile.

Standing about 34 inches tall and wearing little shoes, Pippin is a miniature horse, and his calm and gentle demeanor – as well as cuteness – is providing patients at the hospital with a kind of therapy that only the four-legged variety can offer.

“It’s just that unconditional love they give,” said Christine Deniro, senior marketing liaison at MidAmerica. “A patient could be depressed or doesn’t have family, or they are just trying to process this new situation and in comes Pippin or the dogs. It lets them forget about why they’re here for a moment. We are happy that we’re able to bring them in for the patients and the staff.”

MidAmerica has been offering pet therapy to patients for several years through Mo-Kan Pet Partners, a local affiliate of the national Pet Partners. The hospital just recently added Pippin, the mini-horse, to its lineup of therapy pets that visit regularly.

The animals and handlers are highly trained, having to re-test through Pet Partners every two years, and they’ve also proven to be highly beneficial to patients, as well as staff.

Beth Armstrong, Pippin’s handler and a volunteer with Mo-Kan, said no matter where she and her mini-horse visit, smiles always follow.

“Everybody loves him,” Beth said. “It’s kind of like when you bring a baby in; everyone is just so happy. He’s just beautiful to look at and soft to touch. He just makes you feel good.”

Not only has pet therapy proven to be helpful in lifting patients’ spirits, but it’s also been known to jolt memories. Christine said often a therapy dog will remind patients of their pets or, in one case, Pippin took a man back to his younger days on his farm. “I’ll never forget, Pippin came, and he was just rubbing his nose,” she recalled. “He just started talking about when he was little and lived on a farm. The stories Pippin has brought out are just incredible.”

Benefits of pet therapy
“The benefits of pet therapy go beyond the emotional,” Christine added. “It also can be helpful with physical, occupational and speech therapy as patients interact with the animals – be it petting them or talking to them.”

When Pippin visits, patients stroke and brush him and even give him treats – peppermints are his favorite. Those small tasks can be especially beneficial to those with upper extremity deficiencies.

“It really is like a therapy day,” Christine said of Pippin’s visits, which take place on weekends when patients don’t have their scheduled three-hour therapy sessions Monday through Friday. “We have them use their arm that was affected by a stroke to brush or give a treat, so they’re really utilizing that arm.”

“It’s not just the patients who are benefiting from the four-legged visitors, either,” Christine, said. “Staff is equally uplifted.”

Onsite petting zoo
As part of National Rehabilitation Week in September, MidAmerica hosted an onsite petting zoo for patients and employees. Paramount Petting Zoo brought a mini-horse, donkey, pot-bellied pig, bunnies and more furry critters to the event, as well as – of course – smiles to those in attendance.

“We’re so excited about that,” said Christine, who headed up the planning for the petting zoo. “This was a great opportunity to invite people from the community as well.”

Another bonus about pet therapy, said Beth, is the animals love it as much as the people.
“I’m smiling, the patients and staff are smiling, and Pippin is smiling,” she said. “He likes people a lot and just loves visiting.”

For more information on pet therapy and its many benefits, visit, or to inquire about pet therapy visits or volunteering in the Kansas City area, go to

Part of the HealthSouth Network
When it comes to finding the best rehabilitation services, be sure to understand the differences in available rehabilitation options. MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital is proud to be a part of the HealthSouth network, the nation’s largest owner and operator of inpatient rehabilitation hospitals in terms of patients treated and discharged, revenues, and number of hospitals.

For more information, contact MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital at 913-491-2400. Rehabilitation is covered in full or part by most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. The hospital has contracts with most major insurance companies and is willing to negotiate with other companies as needed.

To learn more about the hospital’s rehabilitation
programs and other services, visit

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