Banner Boswell Medical Center began a pet therapy program in September to bring tail-wagging smiles to patients and families in the Sun City hospital.

Phoenix resident Lyndy McKay has been a pet therapy volunteer for 15 years, visiting patients at Banner Boswell Rehabilitation Center in Sun City and the Banner Alzheimer’s and Special Adults residences in Peoria. McKay and Glendale resident Marilyn Vinson are the volunteer co-chairs for the pet therapy program at Banner Boswell, which is affiliated with Therapy Dogs, Inc., a non-profit group that oversees the pet therapy programs at all Banner Health hospitals. McKay visits Banner Boswell patients weekly with Joy, her 7-year-old black Labrador retriever.

Banner Boswell is the newest Banner Health hospital to offer pet therapy. Research has shown that petting a dog can reduce blood pressure and alleviate stress — no matter the size of the animal. Banner Boswell’s furry team members range from dachshunds to mastiffs as well as a 150-pound Irish wolfhound.

The four-legged volunteers are tested during an initial meeting with an observer, and again during three or four separate observations in the hospital before being admitted to the program. In addition to ensuring dogs have updated shot and health records, observers take note of a dog’s comfort level with being touched as well as how responsive and friendly the dog is around people, children and other dogs.

The two-legged volunteers must go through the usual volunteer application process, which includes filling out an application, interviewing with a volunteer coordinator, going through a background check and getting a tuberculosis test.

After testing is complete, Therapy Dogs, Inc., will certify the dog to work in a healthcare environment. Once handlers and their dogs are certified to participate in pet therapy, they usually visit the hospital once a week.

Handlers and dogs will spend about one to two hours doing rounds. Handlers must respectfully enter a room and ask patients if they would like to visit with a dog. Visits usually last up to 10 minutes, and handlers must know when to leave so that patients have privacy and time to rest.

The Banner Boswell Volunteer Services Department is accepting applications for pet therapy teams. All dogs must have current rabies shots and be well-groomed animals. It also is helpful if dogs have passed a general obedience course.

For information, call 623-876-5387 or visit

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