ST. CLOUD -- For over 20-years the St. Cloud Hospital has been offering a four-legged type of treatment for patient's.

Animal-Assisted Therapy services began back in 1996, as a way to boost morale and improve a patient's mental and emotional well being.

AAT services are provided by volunteers who have been registered along with their animals who are trained therapy pets. Marlene Dingmann is one of the Therapy Dog Trainers at the hospital. She says their visits are coordinated through a referral system.

Anyone that would like to see the dogs put in a referral on the computer and then we follow them until discharge. But once we get on the units the nurses will sometimes ask us to see a patient in another room, so sometimes we see more then what we are referred to.

Dingmann says she has three dogs trained - Ella, Ria and Clifford. All animals in the program must be at least 1-year-old, have a calm temperament and be gentle with patients of all ages.

She says getting to spend a few hours a week at the hospital with her dogs is the best thing in the world.

I teach elementary music, I have 300 kids a day. On Friday it's my night to volunteer and even though I can be tired from teaching, I get here and it rejuvenates me cause you can see the effect the dogs are having.

She says their services have grown over the years where they are even asked to come to nursing homes, colleges and high schools.

Dingmann says they have about 16 trainers/dogs that volunteer at the hospital and are always looking for more.

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