In 1992, a dedicated volunteer from the Capital Area Humane Society and staff members of Children’s Hospital Child Life Department decided to institute a dog therapy program. The Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has a rich heritage of Community support and volunteer involvement that dates back to 1892. Children’s Hospital serviced the entire central Ohio Region. The daily census is more than 160 patients and the clinics and Emergency Department care for more than 100,000 patients per year. The staff and volunteers of this hospital believe children need more than medicine to get well. Thus, the dog therapy program was founded.
One of the goals of the program is to reduce the stress time spent for a hospitalized child away from home. Some of the patients stay two days; however, there are those who are hospitalized six months or more. The planning and preparation for the program took years of hard work to put into place the hospital policies, guidelines, and legal issues. The pet therapy dogs had to have health screening tests, pass a training visit, and also pass a suitability test. After two years of arduous volunteer work, the Canine Connection became a reality.
The benefits of the volunteer dog therapy program fall into three categories: social, psychological and physical. The social benefits are increased patient responsiveness and pleasure, opening up lines of communication for the patients, and establishing a different kind of rapport with the staff. In addition to that, children who cannot speak get the assistance of the dogs crossing the language barrier.
The psychological benefits are the therapy dog being a link to reality and a humorous experience for the patients. Furthermore, the dogs are used as a form of intervention to reduce pain and anxiety, which improves the general psychological adjustment to illness. Dogs can help improve memory and speech by having patients give commands, and the dog visitation can act as a catalyst to discuss issues that the patient has but is not comfortable bringing up. The physical benefits of the program are significant drops in patients mean arterial blood pressure, improved movement in fingers and hands because of brushing or petting the dogs, and when a patient gives the dog a treat or throws a ball, their deficits in balance and coordination are improved.
Ms. Reed, the catalyst for the program, has been a consistent and dedicated volunteer with the program since 1992. Currently there are 10 volunteers, dogs, and owners who, in 1999, contributed 30 hours of visitation along with travel time and animal bathing time.
The Canine Connection is an all-volunteer operation from trainers to owners. They have rigorous tasks that must be completed every time they volunteer. This program gives patients something to care for, a source of consistency in their lives and a return for play and laughter.