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Therapy Animals in Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

February 20 is Love Your Pet Day and we know that therapy animals can bring the same healing energy to hospitalized kids as pets can bring into their home.

The hospital can be a scary place where kids are facing some of the toughest moments of their young lives. There are all kinds of programs and support that Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals provide, and one of them that spreads so much joy and comfort are the Animal-Assisted Therapy sessions.

Animal-Assisted Therapy brings lovable, cuddly pets into the hospital environment to help calm and comfort children and adults going through difficult times. These animals have undergone extensive therapy training and are thoroughly cleaned to meet hospital-safe standards. Being able to cuddle with a creature who just wants to help you feel better has proven medical benefits, like reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, manage pain, and aid in both the physical and mental recovery processes. There’s even research that indicates that interacting with animals like dogs can help improve the immune system.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Animal-Assisted Therapy is the way it can help heal trauma. Unfortunately, sometimes the hospitalization and treatment process can be really frightening and traumatizing for kids who need medical care. Cizzy Marco, a CCLS at Cook Children’s, explains that benefit with particularly affecting language:

Hospitalization can sometimes be so traumatic that kids actually cower in response to a simple knock at their door, for fear that something invasive or painful is coming their way.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of standing on the other side of the door with a golden retriever, smiling and hopeful to meet a new friend. No matter what the day brings, the gasp and excitement that follows the discovery that it’s actually Ralph at the door never gets old.

Many of our hospitals offer programs with therapy animals to help kids in all stages of treatment find some measure of comfort and belonging. Children’s National, for example, has made Animal-Assisted Therapy a core part of their treatment plans for their patients. The hospital brings in professionally trained dogs to visit children daily with over 30 volunteers making the rounds with furry friends for the kids. These volunteers bring the dogs to common areas, playrooms, and even do special room visits.

Some hospitals have therapy animals that become staples of their given facility. At Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children, Chief Canine Officer Winnie stands out as one of the most recognizable pooches at the hospital. The yellow Labrador is quite popular with hospital staff saying, “a visit from Winnie can brighten a hospitalized child’s day or offer unspoken support during a difficult time in treatment for patients and families.”

Cizzy Marco at Cook Children’s brings her therapy animal partner Ralph with her, doing rounds of the hospital. It’s a tough job that requires a lot of emotional flexibility since every kid has different needs and goals when it comes to their Animal-Assisted Therapy. “When I come to work, I try to always remember the enormous opportunity in front of me and Ralph, which far outweighs any challenge we encounter,” says Marco. “At least a couple of times every week, a parent or caregiver tells me that meeting Ralph was the first time they saw their child smile in days or even weeks. That is the reason we do what we do.”

Programs that put good dogs like Ralph and Winnie in Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals are made possible in part due to organizations like Extra Life. Just know that fundraising for extra life brings so much more comfort to the scared and lonely kids receiving treatment in your local children’s hospital.

Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!