Therapy Dogs to Improve Workplace Culture at New Jersey Department of Health
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is taking steps to support the well-being of its employees through the implementation of therapy dogs at its facilities.
The department is currently seeking proposals from up to four canine support vendors to provide therapy dogs and certified handlers to be deployed at 12 designated NJDOH sites throughout the state. The initiative is part of the NJDOH's six-month Project Willow Animal Assisted Support Employee Wellness Program, which is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to research, therapy dogs in the workplace can lead to increased social support, productivity, and physical health, as well as reduced stress levels. This is something that the NJDOH has experienced firsthand, with the presence of Willow, a 10-year-old therapy dog who has been providing comfort and support to employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli notes that the long and stressful hours of working during the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental well-being of NJDOH employees. Willow's presence has provided a calming and supportive environment, and the department hopes to build on this by integrating additional therapy dogs as part of employee wellness programs.
A second initiative, which is currently under development, will embed therapy dogs and handlers for one-year increments at state, county, and local health departments. This program is also funded by a recent CDC grant, which is aimed at supporting the recruitment and retention of New Jersey's public health workforce.
Willow, a rescued American Staffordshire Terrier, is already a familiar face at the NJDOH. She attends staff meetings, greets employees as she makes her way through the hallways with her handler, and is available for personal visits, including those for employees who have experienced a loss. With the implementation of therapy dogs at NJDOH facilities, Willow's legacy as a comfort and support to the department's employees will continue to live on.