At Costa Rica hospital, dog therapy becomes part of treatment for child patients

November 25, 2015

A group of trained dogs are now officially part of medical treatment for young patients at San Vicente de Paul Hospital in Costa Rica’s Heredia province.

The four-legged therapy began as an experimental program in October 2012, but good results led to the signing of an agreement for an official canine program, hospital spokeswoman Yomayra Méndez Rodríguez said.

Golden and labrador retrievers will soon visit children once a week for one hour, bringing happy dog love and a touch of furry TLC.

“It may seems like a limited time, but we must take into account that it is an intense activity for dogs, because children get excited around them,” Méndez said.

Hospital doctors found that therapies with trained dogs provide many benefits for patients including mood improvement that reduces stress, anxiety and blood pressure.

“We even noticed that after therapy children are more willing to take their medications and can better undergo treatments or medical procedures,” Méndez told The Tico Times.

The dogs belong to the nongovernmental organization Dejando Huella (Spanish for “making an impression”). A group of 10 professionals including psychologists, occupational therapists and veterinarians conduct their training and work at the hospital. Therapy takes place in a special hospital room called the cuarto de las sonrisas, or room of smiles, a play area for children. Therapists also bring the dogs to the rooms of bedridden kids.

Hospital Director Roberto Cervantes said the program has proven to have a positive effect on patients, particularly children who struggle with loneliness or depression due to being far from home. Doctors have reported that dog therapy also is highly constructive for kids who face prolonged hospitalization or who are victims of child abuse.

Méndez said future plans include research to determine the benefits of dog therapy on specific patients, such as those with specific physical or mental disabilities. They also are evaluating options to use the therapy with elderly patients.

Dog therapy at San Vicente de Paul Hospital
Therapy takes place in the hospital's playroom, and therapists also take the dogs to the rooms of children who are unable to leave their beds. (Via Dejando Huella Facebook)

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