Opinion Column

Keep animals out of the emergency room

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

(provided photo)

(provided photo)

I was in Chilliwack General Hospital this week for a foot infection. While I was in the waiting room, a man walked up to me with a basket. “Pet him,” he said. “Pardon?” I answered. “His name’s Rupert.” The man brought the basket closer to me and I could see there was a small black rabbit inside. Immediately I was quite confused. I didn’t think animals were allowed inside the hospital.

In fact, a growing number of hospitals are banning latex balloons and flowers in an effort to reduce allergies and the spread of infection yet here, in Chilliwack, we have a rabbit in the emergency room.

According to the Chilliwack Progress, Norm Keller has been bringing Rupert the rabbit into the hospital since 2014. It started when he would come to visit his father and evolved into a formalized volunteer position. Rupert’s basket now has a tag that identifies him as a “Pet Therapy Volunteer,” and a Facebook page, which identifies him as a “Public Figure.”

The merits of animal therapy are well-documented and I’m not about to dispute them here, but bringing a rabbit into the emergency waiting room where people often have open wounds and potentially could have allergic reactions to the animal that could make their presenting condition worse seems like a backwards idea.

You would think the rights of patients would be protected first and foremost, but according to the Fraser Health Pet Visitation Policy, “Any patient or staff member with an allergy to animals shall provide verification within a reasonable time frame of request.” That’s right – you actually have to prove you’re allergic to get to stay away from animals in the hospital.

The policy goes further, stating that if a patient or staff member has an allergy to or phobia of animals, they “shall modify appropriate policies, practices and procedures to permit an animal to remain with a patient in an inpatient room,” for example: “modification of staff schedules, and/or other non-discriminatory methods, such that the presence of the animal does not pose a direct threat.”

We’ve gone too far. There is place for animals in long-term care homes and other non-critical-care facilities but to modify staff schedules and require patients to prove allergies just so a rabbit can volunteer is over the top.

In the US, The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America has released recommendations for animal visits to hospitals foremost of which being that only dogs should be allowed – in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission. After all – it’s a hospital, not a petting zoo.