The Healing Paws of Therapy Dogs

The Healing Paws of Therapy Dogs
By Russell Tennyson Photos Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Being hospitalized is a challenging situation for most people. When a child is in the hospital, the challenges are multiplied. Phoenix Children’s Hospital specializes in customized care for kids, which can make a life saving difference. The PetSmart Charities Paws Can Heal Animal-Assisted Therapy Program is one of those special ways Phoenix Children’s helps patients heal.

“Animal-assisted therapy acts as a catalyst to motivate patients to help themselves. A child will happily take a dog for a walk, or throw the animal a ball, forgetting the pain for a little while and moving closer to going home,” said Mary Lou Jennings, Animal-Assisted Therapy Program Coordinator. Animal therapy motivates sick children to get up, move, leave their room and play. It encourages them to participate in physical, occupational and speech therapy. Patients interact better with their families and others. It motivates them to do the things they struggle with such as eating or taking medications.

Bedside visits of a therapy team are requested by the patient’s doctors, nurses, occupational and physical therapists or child life specialists to help with the patient’s treatment goals. The visits are customized, including matching the medical state of the patient with the size of the therapy dog if needed, as some therapy dogs may be better suited for specific situations.

All Phoenix Children’s volunteer therapy animals and owners are trained and nationally certified with six to 12 months experience in a healthcare setting. Additionally, all volunteers are required to attend a Volunteer Information Session at the Hospital or online. Once approved, they can then begin to work in the ‘Paws Can Heal’ program at Phoenix Children’s.

People who do not have pets but would like to volunteer for pet therapy are also able to do so. Each therapy animal team needs an escort. They help keep the patients safe, gather data on all the visits and help the teams help patients meet their treatment goals. The escorts should be people who have experience with children, hospitals, and animals.

The PetSmart Charities Paws Can Heal Animal-Assisted Therapy Program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital is completely funded through philanthropy. Dine With Your Dog is the major fundraising event for the pet therapy program at Phoenix Children’s. Dine With Your Dog presented by PetSmart Charities, celebrated its 11th Anniversary with a Champagne Brunch on February 11, 2018 at Heritage Square in Downtown Phoenix. Guests got to mingle with fellow animal lovers, explored pet play areas, enjoyed a fabulous silent auction, and ate a lovely brunch spread with their furry companions. “Proceeds from the event go ‘straight to the dogs’ in support of the PetSmart Charities Paws Can Heal Animal-Assisted Therapy program.”

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