"When Bubba was handed to James, he started to cry and then Bubba started to snuggle James. It makes you realize that animals are not just pets, they are loved ones," the shelter wrote on Facebook.
"Both are so happy to see each other and both seem to be doing better! The power of love can go along way!"
But no one could have guessed what a difference the reunion would make. Chief nurse Kimberly Probus told The Dodo that since the visit, Wathen is more lucid and engaged, and overall is "definitely, definitely doing better."
"He doesn't even look like the same man. I didn't expect the improvement to be this good," she says. "He had given up all hope of ever getting better without his friend, but once they got back together, I think they both now have a reason to live. It's amazing."
Probus says that both Wathen and Bubba are eating normally again, and even the dog is visibly more positive. Wathen's condition is still unstable, but after seeing Bubba, death is no longer immediately imminent.
"It would have been had we not come up with this solution," says Probus.
The hospital has arranged for Wathen to start receiving regular visits from his dog, and has also decided to implement a new policy on animals that will allow other patients to get visits from their pets too.
"Pets normally aren't allowed in hospitals because they're considered less clean," says Probus. "That thinking has changed in the last decade or so, but our hospital did not have a pet visitation policy at all. We're going to change that this week. We are ethically bound to meet the emotional needs of our patients, so we have to allow it when we can."
In recent years, health professionals have begun taking a closer look at how dogs and other pets can raises a sense of well-being. Research has found that these interactions with animals in medical settings help alleviate anxiety and stress, benefits which could potentially improve patient outcomes.