Lewis the therapy dog visited Johns Hopkins Children’s Center June 23rd. The Chesapeake Bay retriever played fetch, “red light-green light” and “hide-and-go-seek” with pediatric oncology patients in the hospital’s 11th floor Great Room and then took the elevator down for a few visits on the infant and toddler unit. A favorite activity in both places involved stretching out on the cool floor while his handler, Amy Wernecke, read to patients from a book about Lewis. The children leaned in for a closer look at photos of his sister, cousin and trip to the beach.
Lewis and Wernecke are one of more than a dozen, volunteer therapy dog teams that visit patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center throughout the year. A canine of good temperament and impeccable training, 4-year-old Lewis wears the vest of his trade, one that says “Therapy dog. Please touch.” He and Wernecke are members of both the National Capital Therapy Dogs, Inc., and the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program, which have been sending dog teams to Johns Hopkins since 1998 and to its pediatric oncology unit since 2012. The teams coordinate visits with Johns Hopkins’ Physical and Rehabilitation Team Leader Janice Jaskulski and Director of Child Life Patrice Brylske, who oversee the Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy programs at Johns Hopkins.
“These well-socialized dogs really are a prescription for good health at the Children’s Center,” says Jaskulski. “They help reduce our children’s anxiety in the hospital and can be a motivational asset in helping us encourage a child to try getting out of bed or, simply, to reach or move.”
The pet visits, she adds, while developed to benefit patients, also provide stress relief to family members, caregivers and staff, all greatly affected by the patient’s illness.
Eight-year-old Sidney, among the oncology patients playing with Lewis in the Great Room during his visit, knows only that the big pet with the coat the color of chocolate fudge “makes me happy and I get to pat him.”
Ben, 7, nods his assent, adding: “I like him because he’s very calm.”
“There are so many ways these pets make a difference here,” says Wernecke. “We see children’s faces light up when the dogs walk into their rooms. Later, we might hear that the child’s smile was her first since coming to the hospital or waking up from surgery.”
The canines are also doing their part for medical science.
The Johns Hopkins Pet Partners team of Olive the Dalmatian and owner/trainer Stephanie Cooper Greenberg took part, recently, in promoting on Capitol Hill a new multi-center study of the American Humane Society that examines the effects of pet therapy on children with cancer and their families.