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Pets Helping Kids

8/8/2008 

Meet Max the Great Dane, who at six feet, eight inches (on his hind legs) and 170 pounds, is a lot to love.

Max the Great Dane meets a patientWhen Max first arrived at Children’s Hospital Central California for his volunteer shift with his owner, Jim Maxwell, some of the nurses felt his size would frighten children. By the end of the evening however, they had discovered that not only were the children not afraid of him but that he was connecting with patients in ways that they had not previously seen. While some of the parents and grandparents have remained a little timid, children are flocking to Max with unbridled enthusiasm. Max has proven particularly effective at touching the hearts of children that have recently encountered unusually traumatic events in their lives.

Despite his great success in the dog show ring, Max’s most significant accomplishments have come in patient rooms where his love for children has created much excitement, huge smiles and touching moments that patients will remember long after their stay at Children’s.

Dolce and Gabbana (aka Mia), are two fluffy white Bichon’s who have brought smiles to hundreds of patients at Children’s Hospital. They make their rounds, accompanied by their owner, Children’s Neurophysiologist Dr. Paul Lebby. They have distinctly different personalities, each fitted to a particular type of volunteer duty. Dolce (a male) is full of energy, very athletic and loves to play. He eagerly fetches a ball thrown by patients from their beds or wheelchairs and will bring the ball back to the child over and over with a huge smile on his face. Children who are paralyzed often have difficulty moving their arms and frequently don’t want to do so in physical therapy. However, put a ball in their paralyzed arm, have Dolce beg for them to throw it, and you will be amazed at how quickly the child forgets about the pain and uses their arm to throw the ball. Dolce also loves to dance (stands and spins on his back legs to the right and then left). Gabbana (a female) is quiet, delicate in her behavior, attentive and compassionate. She just wants to lay with the children in the Hospital and snuggle against their bodies or allow them to pet her pretty white fur.

Gabbana likes to give doggy kisses with her little tongue – and when appropriate for the child and when a child is ok with it – to make him or her feel better. 

Patients have become so familiar with Dolce and Gabbana that they make choices about who they would like to see. Just the other week an oncology patient was asked whether he would like to see Dolce or Gabbana. The patient reported that he was not feeling very well after his chemotherapy and was not in the mood to play and would rather spend time lying with Gabbana that afternoon. And so she did, helping him to feel better and less sick. The following week, the same patient was feeling better and was up out of his bed in his wheelchair on his way to the gym to work on walking. He asked if Dolce could come by and see him as he was “now in the mood to play.” Dolce spent time that afternoon playing ball and having fun with the patient, enriching both of their lives.

Weighing in at a diminutive eight pounds, Mitzi brings smiles to patients and staff when she arrives Monday mornings for her volunteer shift. The 2½-year-old part papillon, part Chihuahua mix, loves to perform tricks. “Giving five” is one of her favorites. Her newest trick is “taking a nap” where she grabs the edge of her special blanket and rolls herself up in a little bundle and takes a little snooze. Mitzi’s favorite treats are carrots which she receives as rewards for her tricks.

“I have seen remarkable things the dogs are able to do for these children,” says LeeAnn Flemming, Mitzi’s owner. “Seeing a child in tears is sad but a visit from the S.P.O.T Team will bring a big smile or laughter to a child’s face and this is the best thing you can see. This is what the S.P.O.T. program is all about.”

The S.P.O.T. (Special Pets Offering TLC) program at Children’s is a unique and specialized program that provides our patients with an extra dimension in the healing process. Canines and their owners work to provide a fun change of pace in the Hospital routine. S.P.O.T. teams visit with patients, families and visitors.

For more information contact Volunteer Services at (559) 353-5222.

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