The Furry Canine Healers at Hasbro Children’s Hospital
The Animal Visiting Program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital has been delivering smiles to children’s faces for more than twenty years.
Headed by Hasbro staffers and animal lovers, Kim Morse and Ariel Twomey, the Animal Visiting Program features just under a dozen pet therapy dogs of all breeds, large and small. These pups visit with patients and families all over the hospital, from the emergency department to the mental health ward to the long term care unit.
As we all know, introducing anyone into a child’s life often requires a little vetting. All therapy dogs that enter Hasbro have gone through vigorous training and are certified under Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International. In order to work in a pediatric setting with ill children, they have to pass very specific tests and sit through an ‘interview’ with both Morse and Twomey. The program directors also meet with the dogs’ owners (who undergo proper volunteer training with Hasbro) and get paperwork from a veterinarian ensuring that the pooches are up-to-date on their shots and have been tested for MRSA. Once admitted into the program, the pet owners and certified hospital staff maintain constant supervision over the animals while they visit with the children (and Purel is always on hand!)
You know when you get home from a terrible day at work and your mood instantly lifts the second you see your pet? That’s the idea behind pet therapy: They create a diversion from the less than fun things going on around the children and help normalize an otherwise out-of-the-norm situation. “It’s cool for both the kids and the families because they don’t expect to see a dog in the hospital,” says Twomey. “A child that has a family pet at home obviously misses them, so they’ll be so excited when one comes to visit. Depending on the health of the patient, some of the dogs can even get up on the bed to snuggle with them. The connection the kids make with these animals is just incredible.” She and Morse have also witnessed a number of remarkable moments, from the dogs walking beside a physical therapy patient that is taking their first steps in a long while to dogs brightening the day of a mental health patient who has lost interest in most other things. “I also work in the emergency department and there can be long waits involved, which can really put parents on edge,” says Morse. “But these dogs make a world of difference. They take the anxiety down a few notches. It’s like a mini mental break for the families.” And you better believe that these pooches love the extra attention, too!
Kayden, a six-year-old boy diagnosed with short bowel syndrome, has undergone numerous surgeries and spends a significant amount of time at Hasbro. Moby — protege of Monty, a therapy dog whom had served the program for thirteen years — is an adorable golden retriever continuing his predecessor’s legacy of providing love and support to hospitalized children. The two met a few years ago, when Kayden became old enough to truly appreciate dog visits, and they have been the best of friends ever since. “When I tell Kayden that it’s ‘Moby Day,’ he gets so excited, his demeanor completely changes,” says Twomey. “It makes everyone in the room so happy, family and staff included, just seeing the beautiful bond that they have. It’s very special.”