TDI has been doing a wonderful job for many years, working with handlers who wish to share their patient and kind dogs with children who are hospitalized. Having therapy dogs in the hospital helps normalize the setting for children who are away from home under scary and unpleasant circumstances. Sometimes, the staff and parents get as much out of the visit as the children do.
Often a dog, large or small, is the last thing a child expects to see in their room! You will often find that your dog poses for pictures during most of your visits, especially now that many of the patients have camera phones! You will find that even if they miss their pets at home, and although the therapy dog isn’t their dog, it is a furry, loveable dog, and therefore a perfect diversion from the routine of their hospital stay.
Visits with children can be just as beneficial for handlers and dogs, too! Many children are amazingly resilient, and just as we can help cheer them up, they can inspire us with their strength to face their challenges. Parents often report that when their child saw the Therapy Dog, it was the first time they smiled since they had been admitted to the hospital. It goes without saying that the dogs love all the attention they get from everyone.
Not all dogs are suitable for working with children. Children can be loud, rough, and not as understanding as adults. Some children will try to monopolize your time, or crowd the dog. Some laid back dogs thrive on the energy of children, and some busy dogs may get too busy. Just as all dogs are not suitable for a children’s hospital, not all handlers are the best match for the situation either. Some people have difficulty working with children who are injured, sick, or have special challenges. It is up to the handler to know his or her dog.
Children’s hospitals usually have strict admission processes for volunteers. There are often background checks, volunteer orientations, volunteer training, and health screenings a handler must pass before they are permitted to volunteer. The reason for this is that children cannot protect themselves, so the hospitals must make their best effort to do so. Those of us who want to help the children must be willing to jump through a few extra hoops in order to help protect them as well.