Therapy dogs are often used to help hospital patients deal with the stress that comes with illness and injury. A new program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania aims to bring the same kind of relief to caregivers.

Three amiable dogs provided by the Pennsylvania SPCA drew a steady stream of hospital employees to the yoga room at The Center for Nursing Renewal. Most left smiling. Some left with the intention of adopting.

After spending a few minutes with Gideon, a docile Shar-Pei mix, Rachel Refice, who works in the clinical research department of the hospital's cancer center, was ready to adopt.

"Clinical trials are very fast-paced and can be really stressful," she said. "Everybody needs to take a couple of minutes to play with a dog."

The stress-reduction program is the brainchild of emergency room nurse Heather Matthew, who experienced a transformative moment nine years ago when she got a dog.

"It instantly made me feel better," said Matthew. "Coming home to her put everything into perspective for me."

Matthew noticed that when therapy dogs visited patients at the hospital, they also had a positive impact on the staff. She saw a way to increase staff morale, increase job satisfaction and decrease stress. So she teamed up with Jerry Buckley of the Pennsylvania SPCA, who provided three dogs for a trial visit to the emergency room.

"We got a great response," said Buckley, adding that all three dogs were adopted. The SPCA will continue to provide three dogs every other week for the well-being of the hospital staff.  Buckley hopes the staff will continue to find homes for the dogs.