Every week, he makes his way through the entrance of Lurie Children’s. Wearing his official hospital ID badge and his trusty red vest, he – along with his owner – checks in like any other hospital guest and begins his visit.
But, Milo is unlike any other visitor. Walking on four legs and wagging his tail every step of the way, the beloved golden doodle is a welcomed and unique presence in the Lurie Children’s hallways.
Milo is a part of the hospital’s PetSmart Paws for Hope program – an ongoing initiative that offers therapeutic canine interactions to more than 1,000 patients, siblings and parents at Lurie Children’s each year.
Since its inception, the program has become a key part of the healing process for Lurie Children’s patients thanks to Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, a partner non-profit organization that has generously provided pet therapy dog and handler teams to Lurie Children’s for more than 30 years. The comforting distraction of a pet therapy dog helps our children reduce stress in a hospital environment as they adjust to being away from the familiarity of home. Just as important, it helps bring a smile to our young patients and their families during challenging times.
The trained therapy dogs connect patients, especially those coping with chronic illness, to the outside world. They bring unconditional love, which has proven to contribute to the emotional and physical healing process – whether it’s calming a child’s fear during an uncomfortable medical procedure, encouraging socialization and communication, or brightening the mood during a difficult day.
One patient story describes the program’s impact best:
A 16-year-old patient had been having a difficult time ever since his hospital admission. He wasn’t talking to anyone, didn’t want to get out of bed and was consistently lethargic. But, one visit from a pet therapy dog changed everything around. He was up and walking again, talkative and more motivated than ever to heal as quickly as possible in order to get home to his own dog.
The program follows strict safety and infection control protocols to ensure the well-being of our patients, taking into account animal allergies, and requiring physician and parent approval in advance of each visit. Before becoming a registered Rainbow therapy dog, all pets undergo an intensive six-week training course, and must be able to walk calmly on a leash, follow basic commands and know how to approach wheelchairs and walkers.
During their weekly tour around the hospital, pet therapy dogs like Milo make several important stops. Every Wednesday, patients on inpatient floors 19 and 20 eagerly look forward to bedside visits where they have the chance to spend one-on-one quality time with a dog. Each child receives a photo of their special interaction as well as a picture frame, provided by PetSmart, to leave behind as a keepsake. On weekends, the dogs are a popular attraction for children and families visiting the hospital’s Family Life Center, the main respite area for all patients, siblings and parents.
After each visit, the dogs rest comfortably knowing they have made a clear difference in the lives of all those they crossed paths with throughout the day.