Focus groups and interviews were conducted at three U.S. children's hospitals to gain the perspectives of staff, parents of pediatric oncology patients, adolescent cancer survivors, and therapy dog handlers regarding the role of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as an adjunctive intervention for children with cancer and their families. Most participants believed AAT is beneficial when visits are consistent and introduced shortly after diagnosis, especially for young patients. Qualitative findings suggest that therapy dogs often provide patients and families with relaxation; unconditional support; joy; distraction from treatment and/or painful procedures; normalcy in the hospital; future orientation; and a way to interact together around a centralized activity. Potential perceived challenges of AAT in hospital settings included considerations regarding human and dog safety, the child's medical treatment, hospital staff workload, handler-family relationships, and child-dog bonding. Overall, therapy dogs hold meaningful promise for this population and, with additional rigorous research, this study will help optimize future AAT best practices and implementation in pediatric healthcare settings.
|Institution||American Humane Association and Zoetis|
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