SGMC’s Pet Therapy Program makes paws-itive impact on patients and staff

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Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:10 PM EST
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - South Georgia Medical Center (SGMC) has a new employee that is making a ‘pawsitive’ impact.

Rielle is SGMC's newest employee who is joining the hospital's pet therapy program.
Rielle is SGMC's newest employee who is joining the hospital's pet therapy program.(WALB)

Rielle is part of the hospital’s pet therapy program. You might see her strolling the halls of SGMC, accompanied by her owner Barbara Gattignolo.

Rielle has a very special job to do at the hospital, which is making patients happy.

“I went into five different people’s (rooms) today and the frowns just go upside down and they just go boom,” said Gattignolo.

SGMC pet therapy program
SGMC pet therapy program(WALB)

Rielle, a 10-year-old Papillon, is certified as a therapy dog.

She’s only had the job for a few months but she’s already making a difference at the hospital by brightening the mood.

Gattignolo is a dog trainer and has been providing pet therapy services for years. When she moved to South Georgia from Florida, she knew she wanted to do something special.

“My dogs are the reason these feet hit the floor every morning and with a cancer diagnosis of my own, it gives me a way to give back and I know what it’s like to sit in those chairs over there. I know what it’s like to go to surgery here,” said Gattignolo.

It’s an opportunity for her to bring a smile to someone’s face, make their day better and give back in a way she’s knowledgeable about.

“They appreciate us and I appreciate them, isn’t that right baby?” said Gattignolo.

Patient Advocate Maya Loizeaux oversees the program. She receives consent from patients and then Gattignolo makes the room visits.

“Their faces light up, they’re like, ‘Yes, please bring them in,” said Loizeaux.

Gattignolo said she’s currently training a rescued Pomeranian so he too can participate in the program.

“Pet therapy is huge. It really is and more and more medical professionals are realizing the importance of it. It just makes a difference and it makes me happy to see how many people can gain something from it,” said Gattignolo.

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