Studies have shown that owning a dog can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. At Columbus Children’s Hospital, dogs are doing even more by assisting in rehabilitation therapy. Columbus Children’s is one of just a handful of hospitals throughout the nation to staff a full-time Facility Dog or ‘M.D.’ (medical dog).
In November 2006, 2-year old Ansley, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, joined the staff at Columbus Children’s Hospital Rehabilitation Unit. He is part of a new program called Animal Assisted Therapy. Animal assisted therapy is different from pet therapy, in which the dog simply provides comfort and companionship. Ansley does this, but goes much further, assisting rehabilitation patients with mobility, speech and cognitive thinking exercises.
“Teenagers aren’t just young adults,” Karen Principe, program manager for Children’s Rehabilitation Unit, said. “In many ways, they are still children, especially when they struggle with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.”
For example, Ansley plays fetch with patients, helping them build strength in both their arms and their legs. He also assists patients with brain injuries, helping them grasp the sequence of events by responding to commands sit, roll over and stand. As a result, Ansley helps children respond better to treatment and often helps reduce the need for medication.
Ellen Kaitz, MD, Physical Medicine at Columbus Children’s Hospital, has had “Travis,” her own Service Dog, for the last five years. She has seen first-hand the remarkable connection kids have made with him.
“I’ve seen children who are very early emerging out of a coma reach out and pet a dog, whereas they might not have responded to requests that I had given them,” Kaitz said.
At Children’s, Ansley is paired with Jennifer Lundine, a speech pathologist with the Rehabilitation Unit. In Animal Assisted Therapy, facility dogs work in combination with a trained professional – a speech pathologist, physical therapist or occupational therapist. Lundine works with Ansley in preparation, training and program development.
It takes at least six months to train therapy dogs. By the time they earn their ‘M.D.’ status, they know at least 40 different commands. Ansley was provided by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Typically, it costs roughly $12,000 to train one dog, though all dogs from CCI are provided free of charge to the recipient.
Pam Barber / Mary Ellen Fiorino
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