WEBSTER — An extended stay in the hospital isn’t much fun for anyone. For a child, it can be downright scary.
Unfamiliar surroundings, beeping machines and hours on end in a medical setting can be traumatic.
For eight years, Clear Lake Regional Medical Center’s pediatric unit and pediatric intensive care unit have enlisted some outside help that comes in the canine variety.
Each Monday, volunteers from Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs bring dogs into children’s rooms to create some smiles.
Volunteers Joan Lawrence and Debbie Davidson bring Dolly, an 11-year-old standard poodle, and a boxer named Bear to the pediatric unit for a couple of hours. Lawrence said they always end up staying longer than planned.
“It takes us a while to even get to the children because everybody we see in the hallways wants to stop and pet these beautiful animals,” she said. “The real joy is seeing the faces of the children we visit light up.”
One of those smiles belonged to 10-year-old Evan Stader, who was going on his third week at the hospital with an appendectomy. Dolly is nearly as big as he is, but that didn’t stop her from gently hopping onto his bed to lie next to him.
One could tell by his face he certainly didn’t mind sharing, and stroking the silky smooth tuft of gray hair on the dog’s head.
Evan’s mother, Jacque, said they had two cats and two New Zealand rabbits back home in Pennsylvania, so she knows how comforting animals can be.
Dr. Gautam Malkani said that was the reason they’re happy to provide these visits to their patients.
“The children are always so happy to see the dogs; and they provide temporary relief from anxiety, which helps the healing process,” he said.
“They’re a reminder of the real world outside the hospital, which is comforting for children like Evan that may spend several days or even weeks here.”
Malkani added with a grin: “It’s the only therapy we offer with absolutely no side effects.”
Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc. is a nonprofit organization that evaluates, tests, trains and qualifies both the owners and their dogs as therapy teams.
Therapy dogs like Dolly and Bear aren’t limited to just the PICU.
Nurse Stacey Armstrong said they occasionally also visit the adult therapy wing, depending on time and patient availability.