When Steven L. Shapiro, MD, walks into an exam room at his solo orthopaedic practice in Savannah, Ga., an unusual “medical assistant” is often at his side: Amos, Dr. Shapiro’s standard poodle.
“Bringing Amos to the office seems to bring a little more humanity and compassion to my interactions with patients,” said Dr. Shapiro, who specializes in foot and ankle surgery.
“Sometimes Amos can do things I can’t do, especially when it comes to allaying young patients’ fears,” he added.
Dr. Shapiro and Amos greet the patients, many of whom are eager to pet the gentle dog. Amos displays his affection for patients by walking up to them and sometimes nuzzling against them.
“He is really good-natured—quiet and calm,” Dr. Shapiro said. “He is present, but not imposing.”
Dr. Shapiro and his wife, Patricia Shapiro, MD, a radiologist, have had a number of standard poodles over the years. Amos came into their lives 8 years ago, partially because Dr. Shapiro attended an AAOS/Orthopaedic Trauma Association surgical skills course in Tampa, Fla. Knowing the Shapiros might be interested in adopting a poodle, their dog groomer connected them with a nurse at Tampa General Hospital who was active with a dog rescue organization called Florida Poodle Rescue. While in Florida, Dr. Shapiro visited the organization and adopted Amos, then a 9-week-old puppy.
In the next couple of years, Amos successfully completed a pet therapy training program. In addition, Dr. Shapiro’s wife trained Amos to obey commands, including “sit,” “stay,” “come,” “down,” and “quiet.”
Dr. Shapiro and his staff members introduce new patients to Amos in the intake room, where staff members take medical histories and vital signs.
Later, when patients are waiting in an examination room, Dr. Shapiro arrives with Amos. The poodle has a calming effect on patients during their visits, many of whom bring him treats.
“About 20 percent of my patients are children,” he explained. “When they come to the doctor’s office, they don’t know I’m an orthopaedist. They often think they are going to get a shot, so they are on edge.”
As much as he seems to thrive on spending time with patients, Amos also needs to take naps, eat snacks, and go for walks with office staff members. Patients are sometimes disappointed when he is not available.
“We have so many patients who have met Amos, and they always ask for him,” said Dr. Shapiro.
Amos also makes Dr. Shapiro’s day more enjoyable. Ever since Amos was about 2 years old, he and Dr. Shapiro have been making the morning and evening commute to the office together.
“Bringing Amos to work takes extra time on operating room days because I have to drop him off at the office before I head to the hospital, but it’s worth it,” said Dr. Shapiro.
Although more scientific study is needed to quantify the benefits to people who interact with animals, one study suggests that companion animals may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure as well as regulating the heart rate during stressful situations.
Another study that measured stress and immune function in healthcare professionals after they interacted with a therapy dog found that spending as little as 5 minutes with the dog could reduce stress levels.
According to Dr. Shapiro, Amos displays his breed’s trademark intelligence on a regular basis.
“Amos is very smart and seems to remember everybody,” said Dr. Shapiro. “One day, he started whining while he was near the nursing station, which was unusual because he’s always very quiet in the office. I had a feeling there was someone in the waiting room he was anxious to see.
“Very uncharacteristically, Amos started madly sniffing the shoes and socks. He was just beside himself,” said Dr. Shapiro, who thought the patient might have several dogs at home and that Amos was picking up their scent.
“That was not the case,” he said, “but she did have a pot-bellied pig. Amos had never smelled that scent before.”
Amos is especially important to one of Dr. Shapiro’s young patients, a 4 year-old girl who recently spent the night in the pediatric intensive care unit.
“She begged to see Amos,” he remembered. “After I obtained permission, I brought him to the hospital.” The little girl was thrilled to see the dog.
“My office would not be as cheerful a place without Amos at my side,” added Dr. Shapiro.
Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com
- Allen K, Blascovich J, Medes WB: Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs. Psychosom Med: 2002 Sep-Oct;64(5): 727-39.
- Barker SB, Knisely JS, McCain NL, et al: Measuring stress and immune response in healthcare professionals following interaction with a therapy dog: a pilot study. Psychol Rep: 2005 Jun; 96(3 Pt 1):713-29.