Patient opposes dogs in GP clinic

Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
Anna Dyzel
DR FEELGOOD: West Coast GP Anna Dyzel at her Hokitika practice with one of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Dyzel says dogs have a therapeutic value.
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A patient complaint over two dogs in a West Coast doctor's consultation room has sparked a dispute over the lack of legislation governing animals in medical practices.

Cinderella and Hope - two long-haired cavalier king charles spaniels - spend every week day in the Westland Medical Centre consultation rooms with owner Dr Anna Dyzel.

The GP believes her pets are "therapeutic aids" that provide comfort to patients but others claim the animals have no place in a doctor's practice.

The debate over the dogs has resulted in complaints to national health authorities.

Patient Peter Power was "disgusted" when he went to the medical centre only a week after open heart surgery in late 2012 and Dyzel checked his wound with one of her dogs sitting behind her on her chair and the other sleeping in a basket on the floor.

"I was feeling like absolute garbage, I was grey and ill and in no way did I appreciate the dogs being in the same room as me," Power said.

"I am not against dogs, I've owned dogs myself but if they are not allowed to be in a supermarket, bank or restaurant then why the hell should they be allowed in a doctor's practice?" he asked.

Power complained to the Medical Council of New Zealand, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health and Disability Commissioner but his complaints were not upheld because of a lack of regulations.

"There seems to be no law against this, which myself and a tremendous amount of local people find bizarre," he said.

Dyzel owns the Westland Medical Centre - the only general practice in Hokitika - and said patients found comfort patting the dogs while discussing sensitive subjects such as death.

"I spend my day helping people manage despair - fear of dying, cancer, dementia, emotional and physical pain. The pets provide them with an opportunity to voice their fears."

The dogs were easily removed if a patient requested, she said.

Westland District Deputy Mayor Pauline Cox is a patient at the medical centre and said she was familiar with Dyzel's dogs.

"This may be therapeutic for some people but there should be rules and regulations around this," she said.

"I love animals but that is just not the right environment to have them in."

The MOH confirmed there was no "express prohibition" in health legislation covering animals in medical practices.

Following Power's complaint, the Health and Disability Commissioner queried the "appropriateness" of having dogs in a medical practice but said no further action would be taken.

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The Medical Council of New Zealand also said it would not take action.

"[The] Council has reminded Dr Dyzel that there may be patients in her practice who do not want a dog present in the surgery and/or have an allergy to dogs. [The] Council asked that Dr Dyzel be mindful of this in future."


Alfie was a much-loved cat which spent 19 years living in Burwood Hospital.

He had a bed in the nurses' tea room and would spend his days padding around the spinal unit, lounging on patient beds.

Alfie died last year and clinical director Dr Richard Acland said it was a big loss to the unit.

"He had a huge impact on patient wellbeing," Acland said.

Along with Alfie, the hospital also allowed dogs to visit patients as it had an "uplifting effect" on their recovery process.

The animals were only allowed in wards and never accessed sterile areas, he said.

Acland, who also sits on the Medical Council, said the complaint about the Westland Medical Centre was concerning sterility of a GP consultation room. "Multiple people would be coming into that enclosed environment and although you can see the positives of having animals around patients, you never know when something might go wrong," he said.

"There is a time and a place for this sort of thing."

- The Press


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