Pets Assisting With Healing

This story was written for the bi-annual Grant Report. Names have been changed to protect patient confidentiality.  

This is a story from Denise Smith and her therapy partner, Tanner, who volunteer on the St. Paul campus:

During one of my morning pet therapy visits to St. Paul Children's Hospital, I did not realize how meaningful and lasting my visit with one of the patients would become. While making our rounds on one of the floors, Tanner (my golden colored shepherd mix partner) and I met a remarkable female patient who seemed to be in her teenage years. She was by the nurses station and was so thrilled to see Tanner. She noticed how they shared the same hair/fur color. She sat down on the floor and Tanner curled up as close as he could to her. I sat down on the floor next to them. We spent quite awhile talking about dogs and she asked so many great questions about Tanner. I explained how he'd recently undergone ACL surgery. The best part was watching her big smile while she petted Tanner and gently spoke to him. He was loving every minute of it! Finally, we had to continue on with our visits for that day.

Several weeks later while making our rounds again at the hospital, we entered a room and were taken aback to see this same girl in a very different state. She was laying in the hospital bed unable to speak or move. Her mother encouraged us to come in as well as did the nurse. I put Tanner's front paws on the side of her bed so she could see him. There was no sign of recognition. Looking into her eyes, I couldn't see any of that girl we'd visited the previous month. It was heartbreaking. That was a very hard room to leave that day.

A couple of weeks passed when on another visit to the hospital we were requested by a nurse to go into a specific room. The patient was sitting in a chair eating. As we stood outside the room waiting for her to finish, I realized it was the same girl that we had seen on our prior visits. It was such a relief to see her out of bed and functioning. My heart sank as I heard the nurse explaining how to open her milk carton and take a sip. Then the nurse showed her how to use her silverware. We were soon motioned inside. The patient still looked like a shadow of herself. I said that Tanner was back to visit her and that she had met him before. In a withdrawn voice, the girl's father explained that she wouldn't remember us. He said she had forgotten many, many things and was having to relearn so much. None of this mattered to Tanner who went right over to her chair and greeted her with his snout. I looked her in the eyes and said Tanner is here to see you again. She looked right back at me and asked me "How is his leg doing?" I was overwhelmed! I looked at her father and the nurse and exclaimed. "She remembers Tanner's surgery!" It was unbelievable given all that her mind and body had been through over the last several months that she was able to remember that first visit with Tanner.

As I watched her move to the floor and wrap her arms around Tanner's neck in the warmest of embraces, I realized the amazing impact a dog can have on a patient. Even a brief encounter can leave a lasting impression and help a patient in more ways than can be imagined!

This is a story from our volunteer Ardie Arko who volunteers with her dog Murray on the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Minnetonka sites:

There was a young girl at Children's who was weak and a bit afraid of getting up and walking. We were asked if we might try asking the young girl to try walking. She was quite weak but after meeting Murray she thought she might try it but was afraid Murray might go too fast. I told her Murray would go just as fast or slow as she wanted. He really excels at this particular task. It went beautifully. Dad was holding onto the girl and Mom came along with the IV tray. Murray not only walks along side at a heal but he looks up at the patient periodically to see if they have another command but it looks like he is saying "are you doing OK". Think he has done it so many times that it just comes naturally for him. The young girl made it all the way out the door and to her nurse. It was a round trip of course and she was tired but we got her on her feet.

Another little note re surgery. It's a great place to visit because all are so welcoming. When we first started I would have Murray up in the bed so the kids could pet him and the doctors would come in and do a double take and sometimes ask us to leave which was fine. Now the doctors walk in and the first thing they do is greet Murray and ask us to stay.

While visiting in pre-op if it's OK with the child, the nurse and the parents, I put Murray up on the bed. In this particular instance, the little girl was really scared as they got her ready for surgery and asked if we might be able to calm her. I put Murray on the bed with her and she petted him and began to smile. The doctor came in with a shot given prior to surgery to calm her and she leaned back and said she was sleepy and felt much better after petting Murray. The doctors and nurses began the final preparations for surgery and began to push her bed down the hall to OR. I decided a soft whistle might be in order as I followed them down the hall. Murray was still on the bed sound asleep. If you know Murray, you would not find this difficult to believe. Falling asleep and/or relaxing is one of his tricks.

A little boy was brought in by his parents for surgery. One of the first tasks is to get the child's weight. He refused to get on the scale and a melt down occurred. I was with Murray in the patient waiting room greeting some of the siblings when I heard over the intercom "MURRAY STAT PURPLE" so off we went. Couldn't believe the announcement but response was automatic. Murray did his thing and the little boy got weighed and prepped for surgery.

I sure do love what I do!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so much for the opportunities.


This is a story from Nancy Baker who volunteers at our Maple Grove clinic with her dog, Charlie:

Just want you to know the Charlie's vest is a hit not only with the kids, but with the staff as well! Jayne M used it with her patient who we'd also worked with in Kathy G's sessions. N was working on fine motor skills in her weak hand. N loved practicing braiding with the braiding cords and working the ring buckle. It's a wonderful vest that offers so many activities! I love it and Charlie seems to like having it put on her, too.

Melissa O used it with one of our kids for speech. We hid picture cards in the pockets. When D found each card, he had to say what the picture was and tell us a story about it. He liked doing some of the activities on the vest as well.

Many thanks to CHA for their creative project!


This is a story from Michael Sindt who volunteers with his dog Jimi on the St. Paul campus:

I have 2 stories. The first one was when we visited a young girl. Her brother was also visiting. When we were about to leave her brother told their mom that if ever he got sick and had to go to the hospital he hoped it would be on a Wednesday so that Jimi would be able to visit him!

The second one was when we were in the Emergency room. There was a crying sound coming from room 16. We had looked for 16 before because it was on our list , and I never found it. It was the end of our day and so we were about to leave. Jimi turned and wanted to go in the room. So I knocked. When we came in the parents said to their 2yo daughter "Look.....Jimi is here!" She reached for him as he went towards her. He looked into her eyes as she pet his long velvety ears. And what do you know? The crying stopped. It was quite a moment for me knowing that just his presence could have such a positive effect on a child in distress. I'm very proud of him and the work he does.