American hospitals’ facility dogs’ important role in childcare

Some American hospitals enjoy the benefit of “facility dogs”. These are highly trained animals, usually Labradors. Their training, carried out by Canine Companions, a non-profit group, costs $50,000. At the point of their employment, they have learned 40 commands.

They are trained to employ a variety of skills including turning on lights, passing playing cards, opening drawers, lying still on a patient’s lap during uncomfortable procedures, fetching bottles of glue for patients who are enjoying arts and crafts and jumping into a toy wagon so that children can pull the dog around while working on their mobility.

Facility dog Parks
Facility dog Parks. Photo in public domain.

One such dog is a Labrador retriever called ‘Parks’ (see above). He is two-years-old. Parks received two years training and was picked from more than 20 candidates. Two years in dog terms is longer than the training provided to a fully-fledged human doctor!

Another at Johns Hopkins all children’s Hospital in Baltimore is Brea, who is tasked with distracting and soothing children while receiving an intravenous line or an MRI scan.

Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in New York has three facility dogs.

Kim Burbage, a child-life specialist at Orlando Health Alan Palmer said that, “We wanted a dog that could be really calm, for soothing in situations such as in the intensive care unit but we also needed a dog that’s ready to play.”

He said that if a child is in isolation and therefore cannot have contact with their facility dog, he arranges a video call between patient and dog. He said, “We make them posters, wishing them well, with his paw print and pictures, to keep the connection going.”

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