Therapy dogs have a very important task and at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, the therapy dogs have not let the pandemic slow them down from bringing joy and happiness to the young patients at the hospital. In fact, the hospital’s therapy dog program has 127 therapy dogs hard at work still visiting with patients, families, and staff – all through the convenience and safety of a computer screen. The organizers of the program have not missed one service day in the last five years, and they’re not letting this pandemic get in the way of their duty. Therefore, they’ve made it their mission to keep up the work.
Program manager, Kate Buhrmaster, revealed in a blog post that the dogs interact with people through Webex video conference calls, saying, “Our CHLA community was anxious, and we turned to innovation to help us provide something meaningful for them.”
To date, more than 60 of the 127 dogs, along with their handlers, have all been set up on the equipment in order to continue these socially distant interactions – they have gone down quite well with the patients on the other side of the calls.
Buhrmaster said, “They were oohing and aahing at their screen. Then the questions started, ‘Can you scratch him behind his ears? Can you give him a belly rub for me?’ Just seeing a relaxed doggie face on the screen looking back at you does wonders.”
Besides one-on-one check-ins, the program offers other services such as a weekly virtual meetup called, “Paws and Relax.” During this time, there are up to 8 dogs on the call making sure they do their best to make the humans tuning in feel better.
As Buhrmaster shared “We know we are kind of like comfort food for the hospital. We are a familiar part of the CHLA community. We let you check-in, take a deep breath and have a moment to appreciate that we are all in this together, even if we’re on the other side of a computer screen.”
But this isn’t the first time that the Los Angeles-based program has had to get creative in their methods of visiting patients. In fact, during the past when the program wasn’t allowed to enter the rooms of bone marrow transplant patients because of the hospital’s strict rules of isolation, they came up with alternative means. So, when the pandemic hit, they just pulled out tricks from the past.
Buhrmaster continued, “People told us the thing that was going to be harder, on an emotional level, for the patients was not having the dog therapy program there. I thought ‘I can’t let that happen.’ We came up with the idea of doggie pen-pals, where we can deliver laminated photos and letters from the dogs to the kids.”
She added, “Every time a challenge comes our way and we are faced with ‘How can you help in this situation?’ we meet that challenge. We believe a day without a dog would be a sad day at CHLA.”
A major thank you to the dogs and their handlers for continuing to do their part for these children despite the pandemic’s challenges.