Therapy Dogs From Children’s Hospital Make Virtual Visits While Social Distancing

The current COVID-19 pandemic is not slowing down the therapy dogs who work hard at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to bring joy to the patients. The dog therapy program has adapted to the world of social distancing, and has made sure that its 127 dogs can still provide comfort to young patients, families, and staff all through the safety of a computer screen. For the past five years, the organizers have not missed out on one day of their work, so they were not about to let the pandemic disrupt their mission.

As program manager, Kate Buhrmaster, reveled in a blog post, their dogs are using Webex video conference calls, saying, “Our CHLA community was anxious, and we turned to innovation to help us provide something meaningful for them.”

As of now, more than 60 of the 127 dogs, along with their handlers, have already gotten their equipment set up in order to do these virtual visits. They have gone down so well with all the patients on the other side of the calls.

Posted by Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Friday, April 12, 2019

Buhrmaster shared, “They were oohing and aahing at their screen. Then the questions started, ‘Can you scratch him behind his ears? Can you give him a belly rub for me?’ Just seeing a relaxed doggie face on the screen looking back at you does wonders.”

Besides one-on-one check-ins, the program also offers a weekly “Paws and Relax” meetup during which up to eight dogs at a time can be on the call.

Posted by Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Friday, April 12, 2019

“We know we are kind of like comfort food for the hospital. We are a familiar part of the CHLA community. We let you check-in, take a deep breath and have a moment to appreciate that we are all in this together, even if we’re on the other side of a computer screen,” said Buhrmaster.

This isn’t the first time that the LA program has had to get creative in order to be able to meet with patients without necessarily being in the same room. IN fact, in the past, they have had to find ways around not being allowed to visit directly with the patients in the bone marrow transplant unit of the hospital – strict isolation rules applied to those patients. Because of this, the program had to get creative in order to come up with alternative ideas.

And that past practice turned out to help them this time around during the pandemic.

Buhrmaster said, “People told us the thing that was going to be harder, on an emotional level, for the patients was not having the dog therapy program there. I thought ‘I can’t let that happen.’ We came up with the idea of doggie pen-pals, where we can deliver laminated photos and letters from the dogs to the kids.”

She added, “Every time a challenge comes our way and we are faced with ‘How can you help in this situation?’ we meet that challenge. We believe a day without a dog would be a sad day at CHLA.”

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Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.
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