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Sure, the sick need good doctors and nurses to get better. Medicine helps. But do you know what else can have a healing effect? Warm, slobbery kisses from your favorite canine. While many hospitals bring in therapy dogs to help cheer patients up, a stranger-dog — no matter how polite and friendly — will never quite be the same as your own pup. Which is why one Baltimore hospital is among the dozen or so nationwide where family pets can visit patients (once they’ve met certain requirements, of course).

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, a family animal (feline or canine!) can stop by as long as a doctor has authorized the visit. Pets should be washed and groomed the day before, and a member of the hospital’s Chaplain team escorts the pet to make sure there are no escapes or wacky hijinks. It’s often worth it both to patients and the hospital, which notes on its website that “these animals are incredible motivators… They will listen to us at great length and just be present with us, oftentimes acting a sounding board until we find our way back to well-being.”

“I remember when we first told my father that we were going to bring Cali to visit him in the hospital, he didn’t believe us,” said Diane Lewis, whose father was hospitalized at UMMC in 2010. “His eyes got really wide and he just got so excited because he couldn’t believe that the dog would be able to come to the hospital. It was a great joy to him.”

Although the program has run smoothly since its implementation in 2008, Rev. Susan Roy, who directs the hospital’s pastoral care services, cautions families to think hard about the decision to bring an animal to the hospital. These visits can be hard on dogs, she told the New York Times, who may have a hard time seeing owners in an incapacitated state, and sometimes need a few days of post-visit recovery themselves.