Action during uncertain times
UCLA People-Animal Connection (PAC) is one of the most comprehensive animal-assisted therapy and activity programs in the nation. At UCLA Health, PAC volunteer teams, comprising the canine and his/her human partner, offer companionship and warmth to more than 1,000 critically ill children and adults per month.
Since its inception in 1994, PAC teams have recorded more than 120,000 official in-patient visits and made hundreds of thousands of additional visits to families and guests at UCLA medical centers and community events.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world has been profound. Along with some other hospital programs, PAC activities were brought to a sudden halt by the pandemic to help ensure the safety of our community and adhere to guidelines and best practices implemented by UCLA Health.
With the expectation that the shutdown would last only a few weeks, the PAC program hoped for a quick return to the hospital. Our volunteers eagerly submitted beautiful photos and videos of their pets that were curated into a video that was distributed to hospital units.
Virtual Pet Therapy
As weeks turned into months, PAC soon realized more outreach was needed to continue to provide animal therapy during a time when it is most needed. While nothing can beat the experience of in-person therapy, virtual animal therapy proved to be the next best thing.
In late April, PAC began hosting virtual visits for hospital staff and patients over Zoom using bedside iPads. Weekly visits were scheduled for departments, such as the children’s neuropsychiatric unit, who relied on pet therapy to support their vulnerable patients.
Shortly thereafter, PAC extended the virtual animal therapy visits to isolated campus staff and students by hosting weekly Virtual Visit Stations. Any UCLA student, campus staff member, health care worker or patient can stop by to enjoy the presence of the therapy animals. Visit Stations have gained popularity with regular attendees returning week after week to see their furry friends and human companions. Friendships between PAC teams and attendees developed that may never have formed if we had not been catapulted into this new virtual world.
PAC’s virtual outreach continued to grow in popularity as word spread. Our therapy animals have been invited to attend countless virtual staff meetings and events. Attendees often comment that it was the best part of their day.
Holiday celebrations are an important component of the PAC program. With the holiday season quickly approaching, PAC has started planning virtual celebrations, and recently hosted a virtual Halloween event. Patients and staff attended a fun-filled celebration of animals in silly wigs, which inspired singing, dancing and, of course, a costume contest!
While the timeline for resuming pet therapy visits inside the hospital is still unknown, PAC began the transition by hosting their first outdoor visits since the COVID-19 pandemic began. On September 24, PAC held their first outdoor Pet Visit Station. Hospital employees, patients and visitors were overjoyed to be reunited with their beloved PAC animals. On October 30, PAC attended the Child Live Pediatrics Halloween Event, bringing joy to the pediatric patients with our furry companions.
Despite uncertain times, PAC will continue to innovate and adapt as needed to stand by its mission to provide quality animal therapy to those in need.