Monday, October 15, 2012
By Ali French of Paws & Read magazine
Dogs with the healing touch
Every year, Children’s Hospital Colorado has thousands of kids passing through its doors. For these brave children, the award-winning Prescription Pet Program (Rx Pets) brings love and comfort of the furry four-legged kind. These specially trained volunteer dogs of the Rx Pets have an incredible effect on their young friends. Sara Mark, a volunteer veterinarian who has served with the program for over 20 years, shared some heartwarming stories with Paws & Read.
A little girl who wasn’t able to walk amazed everyone by getting up and walking with 'her' therapy dog to the elevator—she was determined to accompany the dog so he could soothe other kids like her. A determined father pleaded for a therapy dog to comfort his son in a coma. The dog visited every day for six weeks. Initially the boy’s arm was put on the dog; after two weeks the little boy was reaching for the dog and after six weeks, defying all odds, the boy was trying to walk to the dog.
“These pets have an amazing, uplifting effect on the patients, parents, and staff,” states Darby Kelly, the Chapter President. “The dogs come in and the atmosphere immediately brightens! It’s an instant break from routine for everyone.”
The visits can last from a few minutes to up to an hour, depending on the child's response. Some patients want to play and pat the dogs and some just want to snuggle. A patient’s emotional needs can be draining on a dog, especially larger breeds. The dogs’ comfort must be considered, as it is vital that these special canines are not stressed or tired when interacting with patients.
The first beneficiary of compassion is oneself
A sense of calm filled the room as Maggie, a doe-eyed Golden Retriever, padded over to say 'hi' to the kids with her glossy coal nose. Maggie’s grown-up, Michelle, lights up as she explains what she enjoys most about working with Rx Pets, "The first beneficiary of compassion is always oneself. When compassion, or warm-heartedness, arises in us and our focus shifts away from our own narrow self-interest, it is as if we open an inner door. It reduces fear, boosts confidence and brings us inner strength. By reducing distrust, it opens us to others and brings us a sense of connection—a sense of purpose and meaning in life."
A skilled business
Every dog has his own business card, complete with photo and bio. The cards are given to the children they visit. "The kids just love to collect these,” Michelle laughs.
Maggie will soon be assisting the medical staff in the physical rehabilitation department. The physiotherapy dogs have a developed skill set: to pick up an object and bring it to the patient, who will reach out and take it. In this instance, the dogs are part of the treatment plan.
These special pups are all committed to the cause of comforting and helping young patients to heal. The program takes dedicated dog owners away from their stresses for a while and reminds them of the selfless joy that an animal can bring, using their wonderful gifts for the benefit of others.
PAWS & READ is a popular magazine for pet lovers, sharing stories and information on pet nutrition and health, and shining a light on special animals and groups that help those in need. Already established in Denver, CO, Paws & Read is now going national and will be available on the NOOK by the end of October 2012. The printed version of Paws & Read will still be available bimonthly, for FREE in any King Soopers, local pet store, book store or coffee shop in the Denver south metro area.