Pet therapy dogs prove popular and effective

Ryan Ezelle, 17, sat up in bed and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness” when Violet walked into his room at Children’s Hospital of Georgia.


His reaction is understandable – Violet is tall, lean and graceful, and people tell her she is gorgeous. She is also a Great Dane.

Violet was one of a handful of dogs that visited the children’s hospital Thursday as part of monthly pet therapy sessions for patients and families.

Sometimes referred to as animal-assisted therapy or animal-facilitated therapy, the approach has proven wildly popular, from relieving stress in college students gearing up for exams to cheering up people in nursing homes and comforting wounded soldiers.

A 2015 review of studies in using pet therapy with children found it generally decreased anxiety and pain and might promote self-esteem and healing.

The staff seem to like it, too. A study published in February from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Australia found near universal support among the staff for using pet therapy with children.

While she waited with her owner, Mike Arnett, in the hospital lobby before going up to see the patients, Violet attracted one staff member after another, who fawn over her and take pictures with her.

“People who like dogs, she’s like a magnet for them,” Arnett said. Violet, 5½ years old, has been doing this about two years, visiting hospitals and nursing homes when she can, he said. A visible change comes over people when she walks into a room.

“There really is something to it,” Arnett said. People who had been sitting quietly suddenly open up about their dogs and become more animated, he said.

“Cheer them up a little bit, that’s her job,” Arnett said, as Violet walks over and leans into a stranger. She seems to like the visits as well, he said.

“She’s a huge fan of attention,” Arnett said. And despite her size, “she’s a lap dog,” he said.

Ryan’s mother, Crystal, found that out quickly when Violet walked into the room, turned around to sit and nearly landed in her lap as she sat on a nearby couch.

Ryan, who is in the hospital to be treated for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neuromuscular disorder, has been promised a dog for his birthday but his mother predicted the visit from these dogs will throw that timeline out the window.

“That’s all I’m going to hear all day long is how he wants that dog now,” she said, smiling.

Violet also went over big – literally – with 6-year-old Jacqueline Turner, who was in the hospital to have surgery after an accident.

“She’s almost as tall as me,” she exclaimed, posing next to Violet.

Jacqueline misses her four dogs at home in Jackson and is of the opinion they should be allowed to come with the rest of the family to visit. Seeing and petting the substitute dogs helped, said her stepfather, Nelson Mercado.

“It made her more comfortable,” he said.


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