Hospital unites sick kids and their pets

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:36 AM

Alyssa Dailey

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Children’s Hospital will be the first hospital in the nation to unite critically ill children and their pets under one roof.

Inspired by a Canadian example and by research documenting the value being with a pet can bring to those suffering, the hospital is building a “pet-visiting facility” in which very sick children can be joined by their beloved animals.

More than 5,000 children spend more than a week at Children’s Hospital each year and the average stay is 22 days, with many staying for a much longer duration.

Among them was one child, in the hospital for 180 days who had no chance to see his beloved dog, said CancerFree KIDS founder and executive president Ellen Flannery, whose organization pushed to get funding to create the facility.

Another patient was Jessica Elam, who, in 2001, got a puppy soon after she was diagnosed with cancer. Jessica, now 18, would go through treatments at Children’s for weeks at a time and longed to have her dog by her side.

“Pets have always been a big thing in my life. I even used to wish on ladybugs. My wish was always ‘please let me get better,’” Jessica said in a hospital-sponsored story on its Intranet.

The Cincinnati initiative was started by Children’s Hospital Dr. John Perentesis and Flannery’s group, a simple idea that snowballed into action.

When Perentesis visited Children’s Hospital in Alberta, Canada, a few years ago, he fell in love with a pet-visiting facility that had been incorporated by the hospital to join very sick children with their beloved pets.

Perentesis and CancerFree KIDS founder and executive president, Ellen Flannery, had a conversation about the facility and what it would mean to the patients.

“He really wanted a facility. He mentioned it 1/8to me3/8 and said that it was on a wish-list of his,” Flannery said.

Funding for the pet facility was an issue that put the project on the back burner for a few years. While Flannery and her board were thinking about objectives for CancerFree KIDS last year, however, she remembered what Perentesis mentioned to her.

“We did research to determine what the value is to have your pet around,” Flannery said. “We became convinced that children should absolutely have this 1/8facility3/8. Anyone should have this.”

Countless research studies have been done since the 1960s that prove the link between the interaction with pets and the emotional wellbeing of people, Flannery said.

The board took the next step by applying for a grant through Impact 100, an organization of women that give money aiming to improve the community.

After a presentation by the board to Impact 100, the women voted to give CancerFree KIDS a $107,500 grant to kick-start the project.

“Stories like this truly 1/8are3/8 more than just putting a smile on a kid’s face; it’s about helping them get better,” Flannery said.

Children’s Hospital has agreed to help design, build and take responsibility for running, staffing and maintaining the facility. The target date for opening is June 1.

“We are so excited because it will be the first in the country,” Flannery said. “It’s exciting, too, because we have also committed to fund research to share the outcome of the facility with other pediatric hospitals to create more pet centers.”

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