Wood says one long-standing assumption that has kept animals out of hospitals has no basis in fact: that dogs carry germs that could harm patients. But, Wood says, this is not the case if they are clean and free of disease and parasites. Snowy and Inky are bathed before every hospital visit, and they are checked regularly by a veterinarian.
Aside from taking the dogs through a basic obedience course, Wood has trained her dogs since they were 9 weeks old specifically for therapy work.
"My husband and I played with them, pulled their ears, put our hands in their mouths--everything we could think of to desensitize them," she says. Wood keeps a wheelchair and walker at home, so the dogs will be familiar with them.
"Originally this was called 'pet therapy,' so people thought, 'Hey, my dog could be doing that,' " Perlis says. "But the animals need to be trained and screened, and so do the people who work with them.
"A lot of groups are taking puppies and kittens from animal shelters into convalescent homes, but that could cause a problem because they're usually not housebroken, and they have sharp teeth and claws. With people who are . . . unable to move fast, there's a much higher chance of injury."