For nearly 20 years, some very special dogs have provided therapy to sick children and Buffalo’s Children’s Hospital. For 20 years, those dogs have made a difference – not only for those children, but for their parents and the staff!
Dena Stern is a Child Life Specialist at Oishei Children’s Hospital and tells me those dogs are pretty amazing, “The children, parents and staff love the therapy dog program. Some patients are here for a month or more at a time and missing a beloved pet at home just adds to the stress of hospitalization. Petting a dog is normal; being in the hospital is not!”
The animals seem to really know what’s going on, “The dogs really know who is very sad or in pain and seem to instinctively know who to snuggle up to or spend more time with. Some visits are just a few minutes and some can last half an hour with someone who really needs a cuddle. One of the first therapy dogs was instrumental, the family thought, in helping their son emerge from a coma after an accident. Others have helped families determine if their child is okay to return home to the family pet after suffering a dog bite from some other dog. Even if a child is in pain or having a very difficult day, they usually love to talk about their pet or hear about the dog that has come to see them.”
In case you’re wondering, it’s not an easy gig to get. Each canine must pass various assessments such as Canine Good Citizen and they must be evaluated by a certified animal behaviorist.
So, it’s not easy getting in. It takes a very special pooch, “To come to Oishei, the dogs are also tested with Mylar balloons as many of the children have them in their rooms and they can be scary for the dogs.”
The handlers must have their own insurance and certification and they all undergo health assessments and background checks.
Then, after all that, they’re face to face with Dena herself to see if they are a good fit for hospitalized children.
If they are, then they walk the halls, spend time with children who might need a distraction or perhaps just a hug.
And sometimes, it is the staff members who lean on the four legged therapists, “Many people don’t think about the impact the program has for staff. Many of our staff work 12 hour shifts several days in a row. They are away from their own pets and they just light up when they see one of our dogs. The other side of caring for sick children is that some of them do not survive. Many times, I have seen the therapy dog outside the pediatric intensive care unit with a staff member on the floor just hugging away. The hospital can be a difficult place to work with a lot of emotions each day. The dog visits are treasured moments of time away from that stress.”
One other part of the program has also become a big hit! A therapy dog trading program funded by Fetch n Catch, Canine Recreations Center, “The children love collecting the cards during their visits and finding out the visiting dog’s vital statistics such as their breed, weight, birthday or favorite toy. Other than that, there is no funding needed.”
For nearly 20 years – incredible dogs have been providing love, comfort and joy to patients and staff at Children’s Hospital. And they will continue to do so!
Way to go, pups
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