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Pets Give Patients A Boost

December 15, 2009, 8:57 AM by Courtney Zieller

Pets Give Patients A Boost
Having a pet has its benefits: companionship, trust and security. And when someone's sick and in a hospital, they can also have a positive role in the healing process.

Six-year-old Danny Hansen's getting a special visit from a four-legged friend.

"You shake paws. You shake paws," Hansen said.

But this isn't the first time Danny's met Disney.

"It's his second. He was here last Thursday for the first time," mom Cyndi Hansen said.

And Danny's been anticipating another visit ever since.

"Danny really enjoys animals so he looks forward to this every Thursday when they come in," Cyndi said.

Going through his second round of chemotherapy treatments, the visits help lift spirits.

"It brightens up the day when he's having a bad day or a bad week," Hansen said.

Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Lukemia, Danny's battling a rare type of cancer that's more common in adults than in children. He had to start treatments immediately but programs like this help the family focus on the better things in life.

"It brings happiness to a place that has such sadness in it with little kids having to go through life-threatening diseases," Cyndi said.

Pet therapy started at the Children's Hospital just one month ago. Three dogs and their handlers come once a week going from room to room visiting sick kids.

"Especially for some of the children here for long periods of time. Some of them come from homes where they live on the farm and are used to being around animals," Director of Pediatrics Connie Schmidt said.

But it's not new to Sanford. The program began at the Medical Center and has now made its way to the new Children's Hospital. Schmidt says it's a way for kids and parents to stay positive.

"It's a distraction. A modality to think about something different to connect with an animal similar to their pet at home so familiarizing their environment even though it's for a brief time," Schmidt said.

"It makes me feel happy just to see a smile on his face and it looks like the dog enjoys it," Cyndi said.

And with wagging tails, Danny isn't the only happy one in the room.

Once Danny finishes chemo, his mom says he'll need a bone marrow transplant. As for the dogs, they are all professionally trained to deal with different situations.

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