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Shriners Children’s Heals Through Pet Therapy

male burn patient with therapy dog

A patient spends time with Sunny, a golden retriever with Northern California's pet therapy program.

Shriners Children’s pet therapy programs provide another component to our wraparound care that our doctors cannot prescribe. Our trusted professionals know a patient’s psychological health is just as important as their physical health. Animal-assisted therapy is shown to help reduce stress for children, making their hospital stay a little less scary. Visiting with a certified therapy animal provides comfort, entertainment, and a positive distraction for patients, their families, and even staff.

A New Furry Friend in Northern California

At Shriners Children’s Northern California, a new team has been recruited: Stacy and Sunny. Stacy is an El Dorado Hills firefighter, and her sidekick, Sunny, is a 4-year-old golden retriever. Stacy has been with the fire department for 21 years, and several years ago wanted to start a peer support program for firefighters. As part of the program, she wanted to get a therapy dog. That’s when she adopted Sunny. Ever since Sunny came into her life, Stacy said she has been the sweetest and most mellow dog, making her perfect for therapy programs, and for children in particular.

Shriners Children’s Northern California has always held a special place in Stacy’s family. Her 14-year-old has been receiving scoliosis care from Rolando Roberto, M.D., for the past year.

“Shriners Children’s does amazing care and follow-up,” Stacy said. “I want to give back to this community.”

On October 12, Stacy and Sunny made their first visit to Shriners Children’s. Sunny was well-received by patients, families and staff, getting many pets and lots of positive affirmations. Her presence was clearly uplifting to all she passed by and interacted with. She stopped by patient rooms on the third floor, visited nurses outside the ICU, and had lots of fun interactions in the hallways and elevators.

“Pet therapy is just as much for staff as it is for the patients,” said Bonnie, volunteer services manager at Shriners Children’s Northern California.

For those interested in volunteering in the pet therapy program, Stacy has this advice: “It’s a lot of work. It’s not just about having a nice dog, it’s about having a well-trained and well-behaved one. Find a good trainer or class and get those behaviors down.”

male patient and therapy dog

Quinn (pictured bedside with male patient) is a Dalmatian who helps with the anxiety that patients may have before surgery.


Doggy Care for Keiki in Hawaii

At Shriners Children’s Hawaii, patients often appreciate a bedside visit from facility dog Zadoc, a 5-year-old Labrador retriever.

“Zadoc helps post-surgical keiki with their sitting tolerance and pain management,” said Helene Freni-Rogers, recreational therapy manager.

Rehabilitative Services Director Michele Chee added, “Besides promoting a positive patient care experience as well as cheering up staff, Zadoc is an essential part of helping our keiki during their rehab, and is often integrated into the patient’s exercises.”

“The exercises were fun. Zadoc helped me straighten my leg and do stretches,” said 13-year-old Amanda, who suffered from a ballet injury.

A History of Fuzzy Fun in Portland

Shriners Children’s Portland’s animal-assisted therapy program was launched over 25 years ago. Over the years, more than 30 dogs have participated in the program.

Currently, two therapy dogs visit the Portland hospital weekly – Atlas, the Newfoundland, and Quinn, the Dalmatian. Quinn loves to greet patients as they prepare for surgery. Patient families and staff members alike cannot help but give Quinn a pet as he tours the hospital.

Sometimes it takes more than just medicine, and at Shriners Children’s, we believe our furry friends provide their own special kind of care.

Pet therapy volunteers must complete all individual hospital volunteer requirements, and must provide all required documentation for their pet prior to spreading smiles in our hallways. We are looking for all animals – not just dogs! Previous pet therapy animals have included bunnies, a miniature pony, dogs, cats and even a rooster!

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