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Understanding the Role of Therapy Dogs in Pediatric Oncology Settings

By Molly Jenkins, Amy McCullough, Ashleigh Ruehrdanz, Kevin Morris

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Category Reports

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.

Date December 2013
Language English
Institution American Humane Association and Zoetis
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Animal visitation programs
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Cancer
  7. Children
  8. Dogs
  9. Family
  10. Human-animal bond
  11. Human-animal interactions
  12. Interventions
  13. Mammals
  14. oncology
  15. Pets and companion animals
  16. Social Environments
  17. therapy animals