For the Love of Dogs: Carondelet Health Network’s pet therapy program returns

Feb 7, 2023

Media interviews available February 7th at 1:00 p.m.

TUCSON (February 1, 2023) – Carondelet Health Network’s "PAWS FOR HEALTH" Animal-Assisted Therapy program has returned after being on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The program first started 24 years ago, back in 1998.

“Tuesday afternoons will start to look a little fluffier at St Mary’s with the return of our pet therapy program,” said David Ziolkowski, Carondelet St Mary’s chief executive officer. “We are excited to have this program back to add a light and fun method that can positively impact our patients and staff.”

As the name implies, therapy animals are meant to provide comfort.  Pet therapy is known for lifting spirits, improving the overall energy levels, self-esteem and mood for patients, as well as decreasing depression and lowering blood pressures.  Different from service dogs, therapy dogs are evaluated and certified enabling them to go with their handler into the hospital. The therapy animals at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital are a part of the therapy team, and help patients to meet their therapy goals.

“The dogs work in tandem with our licensed professionals – Physical, Occupational and Speech therapists with goals directed by treatment plans to achieve measurable objectives," said Barb Levison, long-standing Animal-Assisted Therapy coordinator and handler for the program.

Patients are able to feed the dogs treats, use hair clips, and throw balls which in turn helps the patients increase gross and fine motor skills, improve balance, coordination, and range of motion. Patients working with speech therapy will also give the dog commands, which improves social skills and verbal communication. Patients are not the only ones who benefit from the presence of the therapy dogs, staff members are also able to interact with the animals for an extra boost in their day.

“We are thrilled to have our pups back from their time away due to COVID,” said Jenna Verelius, Therapy Services Manager at Carondelet St Mary’s Hospital. “Not only do these animals provide a sense of comfort to the entire unit but also can lead our patients to being more physically, cognitively and socially active than they would be otherwise.”

The dogs and their handlers will be at St. Mary’s twice a month, with the hopes of increasing the amount of days and number of dogs in the near future.

About Carondelet Health Network

Carondelet Health Network is comprised of Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital, Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital, Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital, Carondelet Marana Hospital, Carondelet St. Raphael’s Emergency Center, Carondelet Neurological Institute, Carondelet Heart and Vascular Institute, as well as primary care and specialty physician offices. For more information visit


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