logoMy name is Michael Kallighan. I have been a volunteer at the Medical College of Virginia for 11 years.

Together with my two Irish Setters, both Certified Therapy Dogs, I volunteer with the Center for Human Animal Interaction(CHAI) as part of the “DOC” Dogs on Call program.  Reilly was my partner for the first 9 years, and for the last 2 years I have taken Mick.

CHAI is one of the first fully accredited programs that studies the benefits of the human-animal bond. Dr. Sandra Barker founded and continues to lead CHAI at VCU’s School of Medicine.  Travels all around the world, Dr. Barker educated others about her fantastic research. As we grow in our understanding of the bond we share with animals, we learn how to use that bond to benefit all of us.

For example, did you know that just a 5 minute visit with a therapy dog can significantly reduce your stress hormones?  Reducing stress hormones is important in hospitalized patients because it can improve healing time, and decrease length of hospital stay.  The DOC program has almost 30 teams who visit just about every area of the hospital. Many other hospitals have formed similar groups based on our success at MCV.

When I first started with the program, I was not sure that I could do it, but I knew that Reilly could. Reilly, like most Irish Setters loves kids. We have had Irish Setters in my family for over 57 years.  Reilly and Mick do their best work in Pediatrics, especially the PICU (Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit).   We visit twice monthly, usually on Sundays, and all holidays.   It is difficult for me to see so many very sick children, but I am here to tell you, that when I see the reactions, the smiles, and yes the tears that we share on those visits, there is nowhere I would rather be. I find an indescribable peace and joy that settles inside of me. I was once quoted in a VCU article as saying  “This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, If I could make a living out of doing this, I would”.  That is true to this day.

Becoming a Certified Therapy dog is not easy. It takes some time, and you have to meet certain qualifications. Thank goodness the CHAI program at MCV/VCU has detailed documentation on how to become a  volunteer.  I encourage you to visit our website and find out more about this amazing program !!!

For more information and impressive case studies, visit the CHAI Website.

– Michael Kallighan