‘Canines for Coping’ helps pediatric patients during their hospital stay

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It’s no secret the hospital can be a stressful place, especially for children. So, Huntsville Hospital found a way to help make pediatric patients more comfortable, with some furry friends.

Canines for Coping helps pediatric patients feel a little more at ease during their stay in the hospital. Golden Retrievers, Asteroid and Orbit, are two fully-trained service dogs that see more than 1,600 patients a year.

Director of the program, Stefanie Williams, says the dogs visit all pediatric areas of the hospital. “When children have to get IVs or blood draws done, or when they have to get imaging or radiology done and they really just help cope with the hospital experience in general,” she said. “It’s a pretty stressful place for the kids to be and they don’t understand a lot of what’s going on, but it feels a lot less stressful when a dog is doing it with you.”

Williams has been part of the program since its start in 2019. She and Kristi Kelly with Huntsville Hospital Foundation have seen firsthand the impact the dogs have on patients.

When talking about the program, Kelly tells News 19, “It’s very popular with our hospital, not only with the staff but with the patients. It just offers a whole different level of patient experience and the dog has a medical therapeutic benefit.”

The dogs are even considered full-time hospital employees and have their own employee badges and business cards.

The program is entirely grant-funded and recently received a grant from Pet Smart Foundation that will fund the program through 2023. When speaking about this grant Kelly says, “it actually helps us make sure they have the vet care they need, the food, and the supplies. We have places in the hospital where they can relax and play when they need a break from their duties just like any other employee.”

Canines for Coping comes at no cost for patients and both Kelly and Williams are happy to be able to give back to community members during difficult times.

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