Pet Therapy

Imagine you are a child receiving treatment in a hospital for several weeks, scared and sad. One morning a volunteer walks in with a fluffy, adorable dog – wouldn’t your spirits be lifted? More and more children’s hospitals are turning to pet therapy to help heal young patients’ bodies and minds.


Allergic and infection control issues aside, the idea of dogs and other pets visiting children in hospitals seems so intuitively wonderful. Therapy Dogs International, a “volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers,” assists institutions who would like to provide pet therapy for their patients. Founded in 1976 in New Jersey, the non-profit TDI has developed a careful screening and training process, including a canine “temperament evaluation,” and currently has over 12,000 dogs and 9500 handlers registered in their service. One special gal, Jane – a 2 year-old Portuguese water dog – is profiled in a recent piece in the San Jose (CA) Mercury News. Jane is one of several dogs who visit children at the Albany Medical Center. As reported in the article, Dr. Richard Sills, director of Albany’s Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, comments that “the dogs cheer up children and make hospitals more welcoming.” Kelly Morrone, Albany’s volunteer services coordinator, laments that “the demand is always more than the supply…(there are) never enough dogs.”

Another organization mentioned in the Mercury News column is the Delta Society, an international, non-profit, human service organization charged with “promoting human health and well-being through interactions with companion animals.” The Delta Society, founded in Oregon in 1977, focuses on the triangular relationship between pet owners, pets and care-givers. Their website provides links to a wealth of information on the positive effects of animals on human health.

A recent publication in the Journal of Holistic Nursing (Sobo EJ, et al: Canine visitation (pet) therapy: pilot data on decreases in child pain perception. J Holist Nurs 24: 51-57, 2006) describes a pilot pet therapy program in the Children’s Hospital in San Diego. 25 children, ages 5-18, who underwent surgery, reported less pain post-operatively after canine visitation therapy. While only a pilot study, the data are encouraging and indicate that pet therapy may play a valuable role in relieving distress in hospitalized children.


  1. 2 other related research publications:
    J Pediatr Nurs. 2002 Oct;17(5):354-62.
    “Acceptability and impact of pet visitation on a pediatric cardiology inpatient unit.”
    Wu AS, Niedra R, Pendergast L, McCrindle BW.
    Division of Cardiology, Department of Paediatrics, The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8.
    We evaluated the effectiveness of a pet visitation program in helping children and their families adjust to hospitalization on a pediatric cardiology ward. Thirty-one pet visits were observed and followed by interviews with patients and parents. Analysis of data suggested that pet visits relieved stress, normalized the hospital milieu, and improved patient and parent morale. The benefit received by the subjects correlated with the amount of physical contact and rapport developed with the visiting animal.
    PMID: 12395303 ————————————————————————
    Can Oncol Nurs J. 2004 Fall;14(4):217-22.
    “Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study.”
    Gagnon J, Bouchard F, Landry M, Belles-Isles M, Fortier M, Fillion L.
    Faculty of Nursing, Laval University, Quebec City.
    Children living with cancer must cope with the disease, frequent hospitalizations, aggressive treatments and numerous treatment side effects. Combined, these stressors can lead to adverse biopsychosocial effects. An animal therapy program called “A Magical Dream” was instituted for children hospitalized in pediatric oncology to promote their well-being during hospitalization and facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic process. The main goal of this preliminary study was to complete a descriptive assessment of the program implementation using Donabedian’s quality model. This study aims more specifically at documenting the observed connection between participating in the program, quality of care and satisfaction of participating parents and nurses. A total of 16 parents of children and 12 nurses took part in the implementation study and composed the sample. Data were collected through two self-administered questionnaires intended for parents and one questionnaire for nurses. Evaluating the quality of the animal therapy program includes issues related to user profiles, animal therapy intervention process, organizational structure and client outcomes. It appears that dog-assisted therapy may contribute to alleviate psychological distress in children and parents, facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic process, and promote their well-being while hospitalized. The goal of a second phase to the project will be to verify the effectiveness of the animal therapy intervention by targeting more specifically children hospitalized with solid tumours. Stemming from a nursing initiative started in 1999, this project aims to promote the well-being of children living with cancer during their hospitalization, reduce their emotional distress and facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic (psychological, physical and social) process by promoting the emergence of special bonds between children and animals. The animal therapy program at CHUQ allows children accompanied by a parent to spend a whole day with a dog while being hospitalized in a room that is safe, warm and family friendly (Landry et al., 2000). In addition to facilitating the child’s adaptation, this initiative may contribute to improving the quality of care, especially by offering a service for which client outcomes have already been noted (refreshing rest, better nourishment, physical exercise, socialization, participation in recreational activities, verbalization of fears and concerns, feeling less anxious, happier, etc.). Animal therapy is defined as a clinical method aiming to promote the natural and healing bonds that exist between humans and animals, both for preventive and therapeutic reasons (Daoust, 1987). The rationale behind this practice is that animals naturally stimulate an attraction and involvement response in humans (Brodie & Biley, 1999), which is then reflected in the person’s well-being. As well-being is inconsistent with the state of emotional distress, animal-assisted therapy may be a beneficial intervention to alleviate distress in the child, his family and caregivers.
    PMID: 15635895

Speak Your Mind