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What has four legs, soft fur and helps to relieve a child’s anxiety in a way nothing else can? The answer is a pet therapy dog at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.

The trained Portuguese Water Dogs and Australian labradoodles and their handlers visit patients pre- and post-surgery as part of the Stollery’s growing donor-funded pet therapy program. Together, they bring vital, timely distraction that’s proven to significantly reduce anxiety and provide many other positive health benefits to kids while they’re in the hospital.

stollery kid petting dog in hospital gown

“Like animals, children may not be able to fully express how they’re feeling or what hurts, but when you see a child pet a dog, that dog can provide comfort in a way that isn’t possible via other methods,” says Dr. Ray Muzyka. “It’s been wonderful to see pet therapy bloom into one of the Stollery’s core family-centred care programs, reaching more children every year.”

Dr. Muzyka and partner Leona DeBoer are the primary funders of pet therapy at the Stollery, adding that they’re proud to fund innovative solutions for children who are feeling vulnerable and scared going into a surgery or having a procedure.

Benefits of pet therapy

“Pets are able to connect with kids and people in a different way than we’re able to,” says Melody Duncan, a Child Life specialist at the Stollery. “It’s amazing to see!”

Since the Hospital introduced pet therapy in 2015, these special animals have provided comfort during more than 3,000 patient family visits, bringing immeasurable physical and mental health benefits to Stollery kids and their families.

It’s been wonderful to see pet therapy bloom into one of the Stollery’s core family-centred care programs, reaching more children every year.
– Dr. Ray Muzyka

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