Humorist Josh Billings is quoted as saying: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” Anyone who owns a dog – or has ever had a positive interaction with one – will tell you that dogs teach us unconditional love above all things.
At SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Child Life Specialists provide services and therapies that improve a child’s social, emotional and psychological well-being. In addition, Child Life services help children and their families cope with the challenges of their hospitalization, illness or injury by providing therapeutic play, distraction activities, education and advocacy.
For hospitalized children, long days full of treatments, tests and doctors, plus time away from family and friends, can lead to feelings of fear, isolation, confusion and anger. Our Child Life team helps decrease these feelings by providing age-appropriate education before procedures, opportunities for therapeutic play, and other activities to help children feel as normal as possible while they are in the hospital.
To further enhance the level of care we provide, we have launched a Facility Dog Program under the purview of Child Life services. Our facility dog comes to us with two years of intensive training through Duo, a local organization that provides trained service and therapy dogs to individuals and other organizations. Our facility dog, Thor, is a fully-fledged member of the Child Life team, providing canine-assisted interventions alongside a handler five days a week.
Facility dog programs across the country have shown that animal-assisted interventions are linked to significant improvements in children who have extended hospital stays, children who need extra support or distraction during procedures, and even children who have experienced trauma. These benefits include decreased social isolation, increased willingness to comply with treatments such as physical therapy and a reduction in depression and anxiety.
Our facility dog provides many different types of interventions, including:
- Compliance with medical goals, such as medications or physical therapy
- Emotional support for trauma processing
- Non-pharmacological pain management
- And more!
A facility dog differs from a traditional therapy dog in that he or she is considered a “working” dog, with a full-time Monday-Friday schedule and an “office” for rest and downtime. Our current pet therapy program, run by volunteers, will continue. These therapy dogs provide non-clinical group visits that are more social in nature, promoting socialization with peers and improved feelings of well-being among our patients.
How Your Support Will Help
By supporting the Facility Dog Program, you are helping us make a difference in the lives of children in the following ways:
- Staff Resources. As our program grows, we plan to add a second facility dog and pet therapy-trained Child Life Specialist to serve even more children.
- Training. In addition to specialized training for each therapy dog, our staff will be required to undergo training in order to provide effective, child-friendly therapies.
- Supplies, Grooming and Vet Services, including vaccinations, food and other expenses.