Benny is just a hound for attention.

Benny is just a hound for attention.

He's sprawled out on the bed of Kara Winslow, who's staying at Dublin Methodist Hospital because of a gastrointestinal disorder. As Winslow gently petted the Shih Tzu-Brussels Griffon mix -- also called a Shih-ffon -- it reminded her how much she missed her pug, Molly.

Still, Benny's a welcome visitor.

"I'm a pet person. It just makes me happy," said Winslow, wiping tears from her eyes.

Benny is one of five therapy dogs that regularly visit the hospital. His owner, Beverly Fields, said the pets enjoy it as much as the patients.

"Benny just gets really excited when we come here," Fields said. "(The dogs) get a lot of attention at the hospital."

Fields was joined by Deanna Reed, whose mild-mannered Luke, a Shetland sheep dog, also loves soaking up the affection.

"Usually, they're very happy," Reed said of the patients. "They usually smile. That's the goal."

Each volunteer spends about eight hours a month at the hospital.

Lara Lindsay, hospital spokeswoman, said Dublin Methodist officials require all the dogs to be certified through Therapy Dogs International, a nonprofit organization that prepares dogs and owners for visitations to institutions as therapy dogs. The pets also must be at least a year old and have a healthy medical record. They are allowed in all areas of the hospital except for the maternity ward. For the time being, cats are not part of the program.

The pet visits are a relatively new program for the hospital, which opened in January, and have been well-received, Lindsay said.

"It's just a great device for people who might be going through a difficult situation," she said.

Psychologist Jeff Sherrill, of the Meers family practice on Henderson Road, said pets can provide a host of positive feelings for people who are ill.

There's even evidence that such contact can have valuable health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, Sherrill said.

"Pets come closer to providing us with unconditional love and caring," he said. "We don't worry about our pets loving us or making negative judgments about us."

People who spend any length of time at a hospital can develop feelings of loneliness. Sherrill said pets can help melt away those negative emotions.

"We benefit from positive attention," he said. "And they give positive attention to those who are isolated."

gseman@thisweeknews.com