PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The healing power of man’s best friend, with tomorrow being National Dog Day, tonight we put the spotlight on a popular pet therapy program here in Philadelphia, that’s expanding.
For sick children, therapy dogs can be especially beneficial, the Gerald Shreiber Pet Therapy Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is so popular, it’s being substantially expanded.
It’s a bright spot in a day usually filled with difficulties for Jocelyn Nocito. The 17 year old patient at CHOP looks forward to her daily visits with a specially trained therapy dog. “They’re fun, playful, it’s your best friend forever,” Jocelyn explains.
She has pancreatic cancer that was first diagnosed when she was 2 years old. She’s had 5 relapses and can no longer eat solid food.
Jocelyn says, “It’s been challenging but you got to go through it.”
Dogs can make medical challenges easier to cope with. Studies show just a couple minutes playing and petting can help reduce stress and anxiety. Jocelyn’s mom Kim says, “I think it helps them get better, I don’t know why but I think it does and yes they’re a very good distraction.”
CHOP’s pet therapy program that started with 20 dogs has expanded to 47 and there are plans to eventually have a total of 80 volunteer teams. The program coordinator Lisa Serad says, “A lot of times parents say it’s the first time their kid has smiled in days.”
Lisa who works with her dog named Rumor says therapy dogs have to have the right temperament and be specially trained to work with sick children. “Scary things are happening and a dog walks into their room not asking for anything, just cheering them up hopefully they’ll forget they’re in the hospital. Just the look on their face when you walk in the room with a dog they just brighten up,” Lisa says.
Special precautions are taken to make sure the dogs don’t spread germs. Before and after each session, the patients use anti-bacterial wipes and the dogs are also used for physical and occupational therapy.
The dogs and their owners are all volunteers.