Doggie Brigade handler Chris Witschey has seen the power animals can have on hospitalized children.
One of our brigade’s most dedicated handlers, Witschey has been bringing three dogs, two of which have special needs, to the hospital on a regular basis for the past 8 years.
She says seeing a dog in a hospital gives kids, and their parents, a lift.
What is it about animals that help kids heal?
Witschey thinks a parent of a hospitalized child she visited with once summed it up best.
“She said these animals offer a little bit of normalcy in a strange place for both the parents and kids,” said Witschey, whose dogs also have helped kids perform physical therapy for the past 6 years. “These dogs make them forget they are hurting, even if it’s just for a minute.”
This is one of the main reasons the hospital allows our patients who are here longer than a week to have visits from their pets at home.
One such patient was Kevin Skubic, an adult burn patient who was burned in a fireworks accident in July. He enjoyed several visits from members of our Doggie Brigade and his own dog also made a visit.
He even got to meet Petie the Pony during his lengthy hospital stay.
“Seeing the animals is a fantastic break from the monotony of being in the hospital,” Skubic said, as he stroked Petie’s neck. “I really appreciate the folks who go through all the effort to get them here. It really gives my spirits a boost.
While not many people would agree that seeing a pony in a hospital is normal, you can’t deny it has a positive effect on the children who receive these equine visits.
Since 1996, Petie the Pony’s visits to children hospitalized at Akron Children’s have become legendary. He’s the only pony in the world that makes these bedside visits and that’s because Petie has a very unique temperament.
Sue Miller, Petie’s handler and co-director of the therapeutic riding center Victory Gallop, thinks the magic spell animals cast on patients boils down to unconditional, nonjudgemental love.
“Animals don’t have preconceived notions when they visit patients,” said Miller. “They don’t ask questions. They don’t care if you have tubes hanging out of your arm or if you are burned or have the flu. I think animals have empathy for the patients. It is a special gift only they can give.”