A therapy animal is a great example of non-pharmacological interventions that can help ICU patients become active.
Mickey, a two-year-old Beagle, made history on Sunday by becoming the first dog to “read out” to outpatient therapy patients at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital.
Mickey, accompanied by his trainer Michele Dunn, delighted at least 12 children ages two and up with a fun interaction and reading activity. After Dunn read from two books, they interacted with Mickey by petting him and playing with him. All participating children were given some form of behavioral or occupational therapy in the hospital.
The unique animal-assisted therapy was organized by Reading Dogs, a program of the United Arab Emirates-based Animal Agency. “Reading Dogs provides canine reading companions that help children relax and build confidence while reading,” said Karalynn Thomson, founder of the Animal Agency and Reading Dogs.
3-month pilot program
“The program will be tested over a period of three months and will see that children who are treated in Al Jalila benefit from therapy sessions on human-animal interaction with specially trained dogs,” emphasized Dr. Mohamed Al Awadhi, Chief Operating Officer, Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital.
Jukha Al Marzooqi, clinical services expert at Al Jalila, told the Khaleej Times, â€œWe have found that this activity fits the theme of our hospital. There are very few homes in the UAE these days that don’t have pets. â€The hospital also recently invited a Dubai Safari team to organize similar interactions with animal activities for children.
â€œThe hall in which we organized the event is equipped with cameras. All of our inpatients could see it from their rooms, â€said Marzooqi.
According to rehabilitation and intensive care experts at Johns Hopkins University, a therapy animal is a great example of non-pharmacological interventions that can help ICU patients become active and intervene in their recovery as early as possible.
The program launched by Al Jalila builds on mounting evidence that animal therapy has been shown to reduce stress and depression by increasing levels of feel-good chemicals, particularly serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, in the brain.
Cathy Paul-Fijten, mother of two daughters – Milou and Filipa – attended the meeting with her older daughter Filipa. Cathy is originally from the Netherlands and has lived in Dubai for 15 years. Their daughter Filipa suffers from a rare complex disease – ZC4H2 and has benefited from the emotional and physical support of the family therapy dog â€‹â€‹Charlie, a Labrador.
â€œHe (Charlie) is an incredible companion for my daughter. He’s an incredible motivator. He offers her psychological support, helps her swim and his presence has a huge impact on her recovery and therapy, â€said Cathy.
There are no service and therapy dog â€‹â€‹laws in the UAE, and parents like Cathy hope pilot programs like this one will change that. â€œI see this event as the prelude to something incredible for families like ours. It would be great if hospitals regulate the possibility of keeping service and therapy dogs as long as the dogs are trained and there is a hygienic process behind it, â€explains Cathy.
Thomson also said dog reading programs were rated best in schools Reading Dogs attended. â€œIn the four years since we started, we’ve worked to get to that point. During the semester we go to schools and kindergartens almost every day. We have 18 dogs here in Dubai and four in Abu Dhabi. â€Reading Dogs works with dogs and trainers who are committed to the program.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been organizing sessions through Zoom for children and have some private sessions too,” she added.
In addition to reading, the dogs also take part in singing, doing handicrafts and painting with children. “We will have another dog with us at the next meeting in Al Jalila,” she said.