January 18, 2021

Calling Dr. Llama — Large animal catches hospital employees by surprise

You probably wouldn’t expect to meet a llama in an elevator, but that is what happened this week for the patients, employees and visitors at one Mississippi hospital.

After a year filled with stress and anxiety, a collection of animals — including a llama — from Mississippi Therapy Animals spent the day providing smiles and a few surprised looks at Merit Health Natchez.

The visit, which included dogs, birds and other animals was a surprise visit for most of the staff, who were not told about what to expect.

A Facebook post described the visits with accompanying photos described as “cuteness overload.”

While the cuteness level may have been extreme the animal provided the right dose of stress relief for patients and staff who have been not only battling COVID-19 but also dealing with the additional stress of the holidays.

Research shows that animal-assisted therapy provides both physical health and mental health benefits.

Data shows the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response, promoting the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods. Interacting with animals can help lowers anxiety, provides comfort and reduce loneliness.

In some cases, interactions with animals can help lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. IN a therapeutic setting, animals can help reduces the number of medications some people need and help diminish overall physical pain.