Kids are more comfortable talking about their fears to therapy dogs. That reduces anxiety.
Holly and Rosa don’t greet patients with a handshake or a hello, but there is a lot of tail wagging. And they create beaming smiles from everyone they meet. The duo are Norton Children’s ﬁrst full-time therapy dogs.
“We’ve had outside therapy dogs for kids for years, but these two are our ﬁrst full-time employees,” said Heather Stohr, manager of child life therapy at Norton Children’s Hospital. “They’re helping patients 40 hours a week.”
Therapy dogs help kids talk about their fears
Research shows that having full-time therapy dogs has many beneﬁts for patients and families. Sometimes it’s providing emotional comfort by lying at the foot of a child’s hospital bed or sitting by their side before a procedure. Other times they’re helping with physical recovery by encouraging kids to get out of bed, walk and play.
“Being in a hospital is scary, and therapy dogs not only offer comfort but provide kids an outlet to verbalize their fears,” Stohr said. “You’d be amazed by the things children tell dogs that they won’t say to adults. They reduce anxiety, which helps patients recover faster.”
There’s something else that bonds Holly and Rosa to their patients. The dogs have gone through tough times, too. A little more than a year ago, they were in local shelters, desperately wanting a home and a family to love them. They were identiﬁed as potential therapy dogs and have gone through extensive training together. Now, each lives with its own child life therapist and gets love from hundreds of people every week.
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“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Elizabeth Walton, child life therapist and Holly’s handler. “At the beginning of training, Holly was shy. Now she’s a social butterﬂy.”
After a year, more pet therapy dogs possible
While the main focus is on patients, the dogs also bring lots of smiles from staff. That too provides tremendous beneﬁts.
“Studies show that full-time therapy dogs help employees cope with the high stress that comes with working in a hospital,” Stohr said. “This leads to better productivity, which improves patient care.”
After completing the ﬁrst year of the program, Norton Children’s will consider adding more full-time furry staff. But for now, Holly and Rosa will continue to steal the show.
“They’re an amazing addition to the Norton family,” Stohr said.
Making pet therapy possible
A generous gift from the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) Foundation established the pet therapy program, with support from the Sam Swope Family Foundation and Dunbar Foundation. The IPA Foundation is dedicated to making life-changing differences for children with exceptional medical requirements. It is funded solely from donations received through its membership.
Later this year, Norton Healthcare also will launch a pet therapy program for adult patients, courtesy of a generous gift from Edie Nixon.
Holly is at Norton Children’s Hospital and Rosa is at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital.