The perfect way to make a sick child smile? With an animal of course! That's just what the Doggie Brigade, a canine team of volunteers at the Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio, has been doing for the last 25 years!
Doggie Brigade brings 'dogtherapy' to children
While the benefits of animals on people has been known for a long time, the more recent concept of 'zootherapy' as an official use of therapy treatment has been taking the world by storm.
A strong believer in 'zootherapy', the Akron Children's Hospital in the US has taken to using 'dogtherapy' to help sick children and their families.
The Doggie Brigade was first organised in 1992 and is the second oldest animal-assisted therapy program in the US. The team of 80 dogs and their volunteers not only provide joy and love throughout the hospital, but have also shown to reduce patient stress, high blood pressure and anxiety. Additionally, children have become more willing to participate in treatments programs and formed stronger relationships with staff and other volunteers.
In its 26th year, the Doggie Brigade began with a team of just eight dogs and their owners. At the time, only one dog was allowed to visit just one floor of the hospital for a two-hour period. However, today the Doggie Brigade can visit all but a few areas of the hospital.
Each patient receives love from the dogs for approximately 5-10 minutes, with many becoming well known with patients and staff having volunteered for more than 12 years.
Requirements for being a member of the Doggie Brigade
To become a member of the Doggie Brigade, a dog must be at least a year old and have lived with its owner for a minimum of six months. They must also undergo veterinary examinations and thorough behavioural assessments.
The dog and their owner will then commit to at least 26 hospital visits and participate in two special events each year. There is no limit to how much time can be volunteered.
Since being accepted into the Doggie Brigade program, volunteer Chris Witschey and her dogs (pictured below) have given more than 5,300 hours of their time to the kids and the hospital!
And recently, other therapy animals have made an appearance at the Akron Children's Hospital, including Willie Nelson, a miniature pony.
While you may not live in the US, you can always contact your local hospitals to find out about any similar programs in your area.See also: What do you know about Zootherapy?
Have you heard about any similar programs?
Photo credit: Akron Children's Hospital, Facebook