A growing number of hospitals are adopting personal pet policies, and Rush University Medical Center recently became the first Chicago-area hospital to allow pets in patients’ rooms.

After three years of study, Rush decided that the emotional benefits to patients outweighed the risks, and the policy was approved in December.

While many hospitals allow visits from therapy animals, until recently health care professionals had to deny requests to bring family pets into patient rooms. But hospital policies have begun to change.

Today, in addition to Rush, the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore lets family pets visit their owners, as does the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City; Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond; and more than a dozen others.

North Shore University Hospital in Long Island even allows pets to stay overnight with patients in its palliative care unit.

Diane Gallagher, associate vice president of nursing operations at Rush, compares the pet policy to other old hospital rules that have fallen by the wayside, such as not allowing fathers in delivery rooms.

"All those changes happened and the sky didn't fall,” she told the Chicago Tribune.

Pet policies vary among hospitals, but many share similar requirements. At Rush, there’s a 21-item checklist specifying that only dogs and cats are allowed, animals must be bathed before each visit, vaccinations must be up to date, and everyone must consent to the visit, including the attending physician.

Rush has reported no problems since implementing its pet-visitation policy.

The University of Maryland Medical Center, which has allowed pet visits since 2008, has also reported no issues.

“Our pets are an integral part of our everyday lives, and they share in our greatest joys and darkest hours,” Rev. Susan Carole Roy, director of pastoral care services at the hospital told the Chicago Tribune. “For patients to be able to re-connect with their pets — even for a short period of time — can really be very meaningful. It allows them to get in touch with a part of their lives that is often lost when they become patients.”

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