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A place for pets in the hospital
Northeast Georgia Medical Center to use donation to build animal area
Murray and Daphne David recently donated money to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center to fund a garden where patients could have their pets brought to them for a visit when the owner is ill or recovering at the hospital. The Davids share their home with pets Leo the dog and Pumpkin the cat.

Pet therapy is a common form of treatment for many individuals. However, patients who are hospitalized for long periods of time often spend weeks and even months away from their pets since animals are not allowed in hospitals.

But Northeast Georgia Medical Center plans to change that. It will give patients access to furry friends in a new designated facility.

The medical center is set to become one of the only hospitals in the country with a pet visitation area, thanks to a gift from Gainesville residents Daphne and Murray David. After the pet park is completed, family members and visitors can bring a patient’s pet to visit and comfort them.

Animal-loving Daphne David said the unique idea arose about two years ago.

“I read an article about a smaller hospital where an animal had been snuck in to visit a dying grandfather,” she said. “He rallied and had a much better experience after the visit from his pet.”

The one-of-a-kind, 3,200-square-foot facility will be located near the South Tower. It will have a 5-foot fence, controlled access gate, handicap access, fresh water station, seating and shade for pets and patients alike. Oversized planters with pet-resistant plants will adorn the garden, and the stone and grass chosen will be gentle for pets’ feet. The couple’s donation includes a maintenance endowment ensuring long-term sustainability of the space.

“It’s almost as if the original concept and what we have is exactly what I had hoped it might be, except better,” said Daphne, who has seen the effect pets have on their humans.

The medical center currently offers pet therapy in a long-term care facility, but size and weight limits still hinder the animal’s ability to visit its owner. With the opening of the pet garden, larger animals will be able to visit and have an impact on a patient’s healing process.

Studies have found pet owners benefit tremendously from interaction with their pets, both physically and psychologically. In fact, the American Heart Association linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.

“Perhaps the most pertinent finding to support our research and dedication to this park at NGMC is that playing with a pet can help elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are known to calm and relax,” said Nancy Colston, president and chief development officer of the Medical Center Foundation. “In situations where patients are already under physical and perhaps emotional stress, we are thrilled to provide a serene atmosphere to help both the patient and pet reconnect. It is our goal to help heal our patients from the inside out.”

The Davids, who have been involved with the Medical Center Foundation many times, decided to give the gift after realizing how devastated they would be if they were separated from their animals for a long period of time.

“I wondered what Murray and I would do if we experienced a hospital stay that kept us from our animals for an extended period of time,” Daphne said.  “We wanted to offer our community a safe and happy place just outside the doors of the hospital, allowing owners to reunite with their pets as well as give clinicians an outdoor option for conducting pet therapy.”

The couple combined their love for animals and for gardening to create the concept for the unique space, which will advance the pet therapy program and encourage patients to get outside.

“On a pretty day, it would be easy to have the animals outside,” Murray David said.

The park is slated to open in May 2015.