SAN DIEGO — The COVID-19 pandemic stopped a beloved Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego service in its tracks, but the expansion of vaccine eligibility to children ages 5 to 11 has made the facility’s recently restarted program more popular than ever.
Ollie, a 6-year-old goldendoodle therapy dog, may have had a little something to do with it, too, organizers of the PetSmart Paws for Hope Canine Therapy Program told Reuters.
Ollie and 14 other canine colleagues have been helping children in that targeted age group overcome their hesitancy about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine because, let’s be honest, getting shots can be scary.
Nine-year-old Avery Smith certainly appreciated Ollie’s fluffball presence after the anticipation of receiving an inoculation jab moved her to tears, Reuters reported.
“It helped me because I never had a COVID vaccine before and I didn’t know what it felt like. But when I saw the dog it helped me calm down,” Avery told the news outlet, noting that Ollie sensed her agitation and came and sat at her feet..
Hospitalwide, Paws for Hope provides between 15,000 and 20,000 one-on-one annual visits tailored to patients’ specific needs, both medical and emotional.
“More than 30 dogs and their human counterparts work tirelessly to bring smiles, laughter and a greater sense of well-being to our patients and their loved ones,” according to the program’s official webpage.
And although pandemic restrictions halted Paws for Hope in early 2020, the program was revived about three months ago, to the delight of patients and staff alike.
“There was nothing. It was silent. The kids were bored, so thank God we were able to start bringing the program back. Even a three-minute visit with a canine makes a difference for the day,” hospital spokesperson Carlos Delgado told Reuters.
Ollie most definitely has a special touch when it comes to alleviating children’s fears and stress, his owner, Kristin Gist, stated in their online profile.
“[Kids] describe Ollie as a ‘cloud with legs,’” the canine therapy volunteer and former hospital program director said.
“They like to snuggle with him in their beds or have him put his paws up on their bed or chair or wheelchair. The nurses, doctors and … EVS staff love to see Ollie … they all want their dog hugs, too!” she added.
To see more photos of Ollie hard at work, see the complete Reuters report.
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