They answer to names like Maggie, McDuff, Skippy and Suzie, but to their "patients" at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, they are the doggie doctors.
Wearing official hospital ID badges, the pooches in the hospital's Top Dogs pet therapy program make the rounds each week at the hospital, helping break the monotony for people hospitalized for extended periods as they undergo rehabilitation therapy or recover from surgery.
Their prescription--a huge dose of puppy love.
"When a person holds a dog, their pain goes away for a little while. You can see it in their face," said Rosalie Youra, whose Shih Tzus, Brandee and Mikee, have been in the program since its inception three years ago. "The staff looks forward to the dogs, too. They always have a treat for them."
Pet therapy has been around for more than 25 years and has become an accepted part of recreational therapy programs. Hospital officials said the dogs' mere presence can sometimes lift the a patient's dreary spirits and thereby improve their chances of recovery.
"What these dogs offer is complete and unconditional love, and the patients really respond to that," said Sandy Contreras, the program's director. "The patients look forward to their visits."
Contreras said the hospital's Top Dogs are no ordinary canines. They are a dedicated breed, putting in three- to four-hour shifts at least once a week at the hospital. Before they can enter the program, they and their owners must be interviewed by hospital staff and the dogs must be of sound health and good temperament.
"They must have special qualities," said Susan Dietrich, a veterinarian who screens dogs for the program. "Their focus is to say hello and to love. They give 100% of themselves. They care more about other people than they do for themselves, and when they come in, that's how we select them."
The program also requires a strong commitment from pet owners, who are required not only to drive their dogs to and from the hospital, but also to bathe the animals weekly.