Bringing joy to pediatric patients can start with a dog

Posted: December 19, 2018 | Word Count: 626
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For pediatric patients, being in the hospital can be a frightening, vulnerable and lonely experience, especially for those undergoing serious medical treatments. Struggling with illness can rob kids of the simple joys of childhood. However, research has shown that dogs, with their playful, comforting and loving nature, can have beneficial, long-lasting effects on pediatric patients. According to Purdue University, interacting with animals in different environments, including hospitals, could improve our physical and mental health, as well as enhance different aspects of our daily lives.

Here are a few things to know about in-residence dogs and their positive impact on pediatric patients:

* In-residence dogs are highly trained service dogs that work in healthcare settings and perform specialized tasks. They are also trained to create an emotional connection with pediatric patients, helping to provide them with joy, comfort and other medical benefits.

* Different from volunteer dogs that visit a hospital for a short time, in-residence dogs typically have a similar work schedule as their human counterparts, working closely with their handlers. They often have access to non-sterile clinics and inpatient units.

* In-residence dogs can be an integral part of a child’s treatment team. They perform a range of tasks that help medical teams achieve their clinical goals. In-residence dogs can be trained to do incredible things like keep kids calm during medical interventions, teach them how to take a pill or model how to put on a hospital gown.

* In-residence dogs can help lower a pediatric patient’s stress and anxiety by serving as a pleasant distraction. Additionally, many hospital staff report that children who interact with in-residence dogs often require less medication.

While in-residence dog programs have tremendous potential, they are relatively new, and out of more than 220 children’s hospitals in the United States, only a few have in-residence dog programs. By implementing such programs, hospitals could give more pediatric patients the opportunity to experience the immense joy and health benefits that come with in-residence dogs. According to Dr. Jana Stockwell, a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who serves as a handler for an in-residence dog named Tidings, “Our Children’s dogs are full-time employees with a meaningful job to do, and on a daily basis, Tidings helps children be more engaged, encourages them to get out of bed, and even inspires them to tell us about a pet at home that they’re missing. Our in-residence dogs never fail to lift the spirits of kids and adults alike.”

To fill this unmet need and further its mission to bring joy to kids battling illness or hunger, the Joy in Childhood Foundation, the independent charitable foundation powered by Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, has launched “Dogs for Joy,” a first-of-its-scale program that will bring in-residence dogs to children’s hospitals nationwide. Dogs in this program are bred and trained as service dogs but “work” full-time in children’s hospitals. Through more than $2 million in initial grants, the program will dramatically increase the number of in-residence dog programs in pediatric healthcare settings around the country and the prevalence of animal-assisted therapy as part of treatment. In launching Dogs for Joy, the Foundation has adopted its own in-residence dog, Cooper, who serves as the Chief Joy Officer and Dogs for Joy program ambassador.

The Joy in Childhood Foundation invites children’s hospitals nationwide to apply for a Dogs for Joy grant if they’re interested in launching a new in-residence dog program or expanding an existing program. Funds awarded cover costs for launching and maintaining an in-residence dog program at a hospital, including adoption of the dog, training of select staff, dog food, dog grooming needs, dog toys and more. Applicants can apply via www.joyinchildhoodfoundation.org/dogsforjoy until March 31, 2019.

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