Eight years ago, the Good Dog Foundation in Brooklyn, N.Y., approached Greenwich Hospital about offering its patients animal-assisted therapy. Nancy Stillerman from the foundation had already taken her two Portuguese Water dogs to other hospitals and nursing homes and wanted to expand the program in Connecticut.

Today, many dogs and their owners have visited Greenwich Hospital for one-on-one meetings with hundreds of patients. The hospital recognizes the benefits these 10 to 12 teams of canine visitors and their trainers, who visit once a week, have on a patient's health and well being. For many, it is an opportunity to forget the pain and despair brought about by serious illnesses by simply spending time with a friendly, wonderful dog.

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"We had no idea when we started this program of animal-assisted therapy how popular it would be. Patients look forward to the dog's visit. Medically, we have seen blood pressure go down and the patient's state of mind become more positive after the dog's visit," said Frank Corvino, CEO of Greenwich Hospital.

Greenwich Hospital is a 174-bed facility that serves Fairfield and Westchester counties. It is affiliated with Yale University School of Medicine and a member of the Yale New Haven Health System

Dogs and their owners who participated in animal-assisted therapy are certified to volunteer through 11 sessions that teach them the necessary skills and procedures required. Dogs are trained through positive reinforcement to hone their temperaments and gain the necessary mannerisms and skills to navigate a health-care environment. The teams are tested and evaluated throughout the training course and certified upon completion of the course to work as a Good Dog Team.

Studies have shown that interaction with the dogs, petting them, handling them and just playing with them reduces stress, increases physical activity, relieves depression and anxiety, calms and motivates patients and helps normalize difficult situations. The Good Dog Foundation will host a monthly therapy dog search in Greenwich on Aug. 20 at the Pet Pantry Warehouse from 2 to 4 p.m. To become part of the Good Dog Team, the dog must be at least 4 months old and the handler needs only to have the desire and availability to volunteer. Dogs undergo a pre-screening prior to the volunteer team, attending a training class. Support groups and networking events are hosted for teams to share their knowledge and experiences. For additional information, please visit www.thegooddogfoundation.org and fill out the pre-screening application under the volunteer section.

New Canaan resident Cathy Kangas is a member of the Humane Society of the United States' National Council. As the owner of PRAI, an international cosmetic corporation, she started Beauty with a Cause, and commits a percentage of her company's profits to help animal welfare organizations around the world.