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Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the latest hospitals to adopt a visiting policy for pets, had its first patient-owned pet visit in February.

Sadie the dachshund climbed onto the lap of her owner, Bernadette Slesinski-Evans, who from her hospital bed happily let her dog lick her face.

Supporters of pet visitation programs, however, say hospitals need to go beyond long-standing policies of having therapy dogs, because patients prefer to see their own pets.

A visit from one's pet is especially meaningful for patients who are depressed, says Deborah Stein, MD, MPH, chief of the section of trauma critical care at the University of Maryland's R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Before the University of Maryland Medical Center began its pet visitation program in 2008, Stein, a dog lover, helped get approval to reunite two of her spinal-cord-injured patients with their dogs at the Shock Trauma Center.

Although both patients were paralyzed from the neck down, they were mentally aware and were able to be close to their dogs during the short visits, she says.

It's one more tool we have to help patients get through what must be some of their worst days." Or in some cases, the patient's final days.I can’t have full blown happy hour on the porch while my kids lounge in the kiddie pool contently gnawing on a bone.I can’t put them on a leash in public places and rub their nose in accidents, at least not without some major questioning of my parental abilities.Citing extensive research showing that patients feel hope and joy from being near their pets, Gallagher says the benefit to the patient is worth the risks of a pet visit in the hospital."It takes their mind off their stress and anxiety," she says.Even if I would like to do some of these things, a pet may be treated as a surrogate child but a child can never be treated as the opposite. Pets don’t come with curfew enforcement, mending tiny broken hearts and tutoring homework.

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