Furry therapy helps kids cope with cancer treatments

- The medical experts at St, Joseph's Children's Hospital are using a new kind of therapy to relieve some of the stress and pain for children going through intense treatments.

It's hard enough to hear a diagnosis and even more difficult to watch a youngster go through tough and sometimes terrifying treatments. For cancer patients like 3-year-old Ellie, getting through treatments can be like finding your way out of a long, difficult maze. And sometimes it feels like everything is out to get you.

Mom, Jaclyn York explained, "I know what the medicine does to her. It can make her tired. It can cause leg and joint pain."

While getting another chemo infusion to treat her leukemia, Ellie's tummy started hurting and her coloring book wasn't a good enough distraction. Mom says they've tried a variety of therapies to get Ellie through the toughest parts.

"There are volunteers that come and do art therapy with them. There's also music therapy," York said.

The newest therapy doctors are turning to is of the furry kind. That's where Parker, the golden retriever and his owner, Cindy Harmon come in.

"We are a pet therapy team. We've been doing it about a year and a half," Harmon said. 

At first, Ellie was reluctant to touch Parker. She doesn't have pets at home, but after about 10 minutes and a little change of venue, parker was getting his hair done by a cancer patient who was no longer thinking about cancer treatments or that upset tummy.

FOX 13's Linda Hurtado asked Harmon what it is about a dog that makes a sick child feel better.

"A lot of things. I think it's so different than being pricked with a needle, then being asked a lot of questions, then being given yucky medicine. I think with a dog it's just normal. It's something they have at home or a friend's house or at grandma's house," Harmon explained.

There are about 40 pet therapy dogs hitting the halls of St Joseph's Hospital, not just greeting sick patients, but their siblings and families as well.

Harmon said she was most surprised by the reaction of the parents.

"[I was surprised by] how much certain parents and siblings react because the whole family is in crisis," Harmon said.

The visits are free to the patient and family. It's a service that is almost like spiritual medicine.

"It's incredibly important, especially when we are here so often. Anything that can make the hospital visits different are a huge welcome and blessing to her," York said. 

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