AACN News—November 2001—People

AACN News Logo

Back to AACN News Home

Vol. 18, No. 11, MARCH 2001

Former AACN Board Member Makes Animal Therapy Her ‘Pet’ Project as Benefits Expanded to Other Arenas

Former AACN board member Sandi
Martin is shown with Olivia, her late
animal therapy companion. With them
is Martin’s cat, Murdock.

A past member of the AACN Board of Directors has expanded what she learned as a critical care nurse into new areas of commitment and caring. Her innovative efforts have attracted international attention to the benefits of using pet therapy to motivate people in a variety of settings.

Today, as a member of the Board of Directors of Intermountain Therapy Animals in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sandi Martin, RN, BSN, NCBF, is the driving force behind a program known as R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). The program, based on the same premise she has used for some 20 years in critical care nursing—that animals can have a profound impact on quality of life—is being used in a growing number of libraries, as well as with inner-city, at-risk students.

Martin said she first learned the power of the human-animal bond when she and her colleagues sneaked in the pet poodle of a critically ill patient, who was despondent and unresponsive because she was unable to see her pet. Her family members reported that the animal was also grieving and refused to eat.

“We brought the poodle in a baby buggy, up the back elevators, into the ICU,” Martin recalled. “I saw how powerful animals could be in making a difference in helping people heal. She (the patient) had given up, but started fighting back after that.”

Since that time, Martin has not had to revert to such clandestine techniques. Throughout her career, she said, she has been able to convince every hospital where she has worked to allow patients’ own pets to visit.
In fact, the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics in Salt Lake City, where Martin is currently director of community outreach and volunteer services, states in its pet visitation policy that “we understand that pets are family, too.” Martin coordinates all the pet and therapy animal visits that take place at the hospital.

“A lot of times, of course, people look different when they are in the ICU,” she said. “They may have tubes and equipment, or be disfigured because of illness or injury.

“Dogs don’t care how you look. They will look you right in the face with unconditional love. Sometimes, it’s harder for humans to do that.”

Of course, there are rules that must be followed. Visiting pets must be on leashes or in carriers, and the doors to patients’ rooms are closed and posted with a sign notifying others that pets are visiting.

Because of Martin’s extensive experience with pets visiting in the ICU, she was invited to speak to the Intermountain Therapy Animals group. It was through this association that she realized that therapy animals could be used in other arenas as well. This lead her to the idea of using the animals as reading mentors in schools and libraries.

So, almost two years ago, Martin began piloting the R.E.A.D. program in the school system, using pet partner teams from International Therapy Animals. Although the data are only now starting to come in, the results have been more than encouraging. For example, in only 16 months, one student increased her reading level from 3.4 to 6.8. And, she and three other students have been on the honor roll in science, math and reading for the last three quarters. All of these students had been identified as at risk prior to their involvement with R.E.A.D.

Today, R.E.A.D. teams volunteer at all Salt Lake City library facilities every Saturday. The extensive exposure the program has had in the media has also prompted similar programs to be established in Alabama, Washington, Texas and Oregon.

“From the beginning, there was a lot of exposure,” Martin said. “When we started the pilot program in the library, we appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.”

In addition to myriad other coverage on radio, in magazines and in specialized and professional journals, the program was featured on ABC as part of the “21st-Century Minds” segment with Peter Jennings. The program aired internationally. Martin and Olivia were also presented the Points of Light award by Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt.

To date, more than 600 inquiries about the program have been received, from as far away as Saudi Arabia.

“There are library R.E.A.D. teams cropping up everywhere,” Martin said.

In response, her group is raising money to create startup kits for schools, libraries and others interested in starting their own programs.

In May 2001, Martin lost her own therapy dog, Olivia, at the age of 3. The duo had been scheduled to join the Therapy Dogs of Southern California when they exhibited at the Critical Care Exposition in connection with NTI 2001 in Anaheim, Calif., when Olivia became ill.

Martin had rescued Olivia, a Portuguese Water Dog, from a shelter as a puppy and had used her in such areas as the ICU, the burn unit and the surgical waiting room and pediatric clinic, where young patients were waiting for appointments, as well as at the pilot school and the library.

“The therapy dogs are very much a part of the hospital’s volunteer system,” Martin said. “They even have business cards with their photos on them and are included each year at the volunteer recognition luncheon.”
The founding R.E.A.D. dog, Olivia had worked in the R.E.A.D. program since November 1999.

“She was the R.E.A.D. poster child,” Martin added.

Martin now has adopted a new dog, Zelda, who she hopes to certify as a therapy dog when she is old enough.

If you would like to know more about International Therapy Animals and Martin’s work, contact her at (801) 581-2542 (e-mail, Booklady1@msn.com), or visit the International Therapy Animals Web site at http://www.therapyanimals.org.

Members on the Move


David Tausevich, RN, BSN, CCRN, was awarded the 2001 Virginia A. Gaffey Scholarship by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Foundation. Tausevich is a nurse anesthesiology intern at Boston University Medical Center. He is enrolled in the master of science nurse anesthesiology program at the University of New England College of Health Sciences, Biddeford, Maine.


Sherry Ray, RN, MSN, CCRN, APRN, BC, received her master of science in nursing degree from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, after completing the family nurse practitioner program. She received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award and was inducted into the Zeta Alpha Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International. Ray also passed the American Nurse Credentialing Center nurse practitioner exam. She is working as a nurse practitioner in a gastrointestinal practice and as a CCRN in a cardiac catheterization lab in Chattanooga.

Vitello-Cicciu (left) and Molter

Nancy Molter, RN, MN, PhD, and Joan Vitello-Cicciu, RN, MSN, PhD, CS, FAAN, both past presidents of AACN, received their doctorate degrees in human and organizational systems from the Fielding Graduate Institute, based in Santa Barbara, Calif. For her dissertation research, Molter explored “Emotion and Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Leadership.” Vitello-Cicciu examined “Leadership Practices and Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Leaders.” Molter is director of Patient and Family Education at the Baptist Health System, San Antonio, Texas. Vitello-Cicciu is director of the Leadership Assessment & Development Collaborative for the Institute for Nursing Healthcare Leadership in Boston, Mass., and serves as adjunct faculty in the School of Nursing at Regis College and in the School of Management at Bentley College. Both plan to continue their work in designing systems that promote a healing healthcare environment.
Your Feedback