Pediatric Orthopedics and the Impact of Therapy Dogs on the Care of Hospitalized Children
Story of Gratitude
We would like to share with you a story about animal-assisted therapy, a treatment approach that utilizes trained animals as therapeutic aids. Through interactions with animals, we can establish emotional connections and trust, promote cognitive and interpersonal progress, and alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and physical discomfort.
In 2016, we introduced a guide dog named Oba. In February 2019, Oba transitioned to become a therapy dog, becoming the first therapy dog working in palliative care in Taiwan. Over the past four years, Oba has been involved in various hospital activities, including birthday celebrations for patients and their families, wish fulfillment, comfort care, wound dressing changes, edema massages, and rehabilitation exercises. We have found that patients only need to gently touch Oba to feel warmth and comfort, providing solace for their physical and mental well-being.
Research has shown that children who receive animal-assisted therapy recover faster after surgery and experience reduced postoperative pain. Additionally, animal-assisted therapy can alleviate anxiety in hospitalized children, improve parental satisfaction, facilitate interpersonal relationships, enhance self-confidence, create a sense of security, and improve communication and social skills. Therefore, in clinical settings, the interaction between humans and animals is considered valuable and highly beneficial for promoting mental health.
In March 2023, our pediatric orthopedic scoliosis medical team began utilizing therapy dogs to enhance the quality of care for children with early-onset scoliosis. We discovered that these children have a natural affinity for animals. With the support of the Da-Deh Foundation, we introduced therapy dogs to children with early-onset scoliosis. For example, for children who need prolonged hospital stays for cranial traction therapy, celebrating their birthdays in the hospital can be a disheartening experience. We invited Oba to celebrate birthdays with the children, making shared wishes and promising our dedication to their early recovery (Figure 1). Additionally, before children undergo surgery, Oba specifically arrives early, coming from Taoyuan, and accompanies the children to the operating room before 7 am. Oba's presence alleviates the children's anxiety about the surgery, and even at the entrance of the operating room, Oba remains steadfast, unwilling to leave (Figure 2). Furthermore, to encourage Mingze to walk after surgery, we collaborated with a rehabilitation therapist to establish a reward system based on meeting the therapy dog. For every hour Mingze spends out of bed, he receives a small sticker. When he collects 10 stickers, he can meet Oba again. Within just 10 days, Mingze collected 30 stickers, greatly aiding his lower limb recovery (Figure 3). Similarly, for underweight children with poor appetite, the promise of meeting the therapy dog has resulted in significant weight gain.
Our pediatric orthopedic scoliosis medical team not only focuses on the physical health of these children but also recognizes their psychological needs. We strive to improve the hospital experience for these children, enhance the quality of care, and help them bravely face their illnesses.
If you have any questions about animal-assisted therapy, please feel free to reach out to our medical team. We are happy to assist you. Wishing you good health and happiness!