K-9'S FOR KIDS PEDIATRIC THERAPY UNIT
Originally started in 1999 at the request of the Melha Shriners as a volunteer pet therapy unit to work with the child life department at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Springfield Massachusetts, K-9's for Kids has expanded over the years to serve other medical pediatric facilities, camp programs, library programs, youth and family services locations, and school systems. The unit currently consists of over 25 dogs from Massachusetts and Connecticut who offer more than 30 visits per month. We have a diverse group of dogs, both purebred and all Americans ranging in size from our smallest miki to our largest newfoundland. Many of our certified dogs also participate in other performance events along with providing therapy services. We have numerous conformation champions, dogs titled in competition and rally obedience, agility champions, herding titled dogs, freestyle dancing dogs, nosework dogs, trick dogs, and frisbee dogs.
In the school environment, the dogs are used to enhance self-esteem by offering non-judgemental, non-threatening attention while enhancing verbalization. Children in the school programs might be struggling readers, have learning disabilities, or have social concerns that benefit from working with the dogs. Huge strides in improved communication, reading skills and confidence are obvious in the children chosen by their teachers to participate in this program.
In the hospital setting, the dogs decrease anxiety and stress by providing a diversion from hospital routine, stimulate physical activity and social interaction, provide the patient with a sense of control and mastery, and enhance the therapeutic goals for the patient as assessed by the physical /occupational and child therapists.
In youth service programs, our dogs provide an opportunity to play, to cuddle, to teach, and to participate in an unprejudiced relationship built on trust and respect. Kids are given the ability to learn about the dogs, to perform various tricks and games with them, and are encouraged to explore a human/animal connection they may be missing or have never had the opportunity to discover before. Children in residency programs look forward to the days our dogs visit, often preparing pictures, poems, and songs to share, researching a topic that was discussed during a previous visit, or choosing a book to read with their canine therapist.
Because we are a smaller unit, we personally know all of our handlers and dogs which allows us to recommend teams according to the child's needs and the dog's personality. Some children need a quieter "snuggle" dog to enhance and promote their visit, while others will benefit more from one of our busier entertainment dogs. Some locations have larger groups of children requesting services at a single visit. Group visits are common in K-9's for Kids and multiple dog teams are often sent to work together, combining larger and smaller dogs with a variety of personalities to facilitate a great visit for all of the participants.
Shriner's Hospital Walkathon 9/2015