Pet Therapy – Why the furry friends help kids during illness and treatment Recently, the New York Times reported that the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, is looking to study whether or not animals can have a positive effect on sick kids. According to the article, dozens of volunteers regularly take their dogs to visit patients at Children's Hospital of Orange County in Southern California because children being treated for serious illnesses often have the blues, anxiety, or depression. "The dogs brighten them up," said Emily Grankowski, who oversees the pet therapy program at the hospital. My dog Beepo certainly fit that bill! As a kid, my colon cancer ruled our family's world. Doctor visits and trips to the hospital filled up our days, in addition to all the "normal" routine activities and responsibilities that a family of five has on a day-to-day basis. Clearly, there was no room for a dog in our lives. My parents had enough to take care of between one sick kid and two healthy children, their jobs, and running a household. Of course, I always wanted a dog. What kid doesn't? I would continually ask, but the answer was always no. One day, my therapist convinced my parents that a dog would actually be one of the best forms of therapy for me. So my parents got me a pet-Beepo. Beepo came with her own name, and I didn't want to change it. She was a beagle, and I loved her. It was a real special treat to have this dog. We took to each other right away. She slept under my bed, became my company, and even went to therapy with me. My therapist used Beepo as a way to talk to me, too. Looking back now, although Beepo was the family pet, she was clearly my dog. Even now, I am amazed at how pets sense when you are sick, and they snuggle with you, provide comfort, and want your attention. Pets are simple so they make life feel simple. It's natural for them to do so. Here are a few things to consider when introducing a pet into your home as a part of therapy: - It doesn't matter what the pet is as long as the animal is of interest to your child. A goldfish may provide amazing comfort to one child while a cat or dog will for another. Determine what type of pet you child wants first, and don't assume that it has to be something your child can pet or snuggle up with. If your child doesn't want a dog, then getting one won't provide the therapeutic benefits. There must be a connection for your child for the greatest benefits. - Consider your routine and schedule before committing to a pet. The last thing you need is added stress in your life, so select a pet that will work with your day-to-day schedule. Think about what the pet will require for care and who will be responsible for that. The responsibility should be your child's, but what is the backup plan to care for the pet when your child is having a rough day? Again, a furry (or not-so-furry) friend that is low maintenance might work best for your family. - Kitten or cat? Puppy or dog? Of course, the smaller the furry friend the better, right? Yes and no. While it's great to get a young kitten or puppy because early stages of the socialization period in their lives allows you to bond with the pet, there are a whole host of other responsibilities that come along with having a "newborn" or "baby" on your hands. However, adopting an older pet takes time, as well, because you need to find one with a suitable disposition to match with your family's personality and traits. Don't be quick to jump at the first free pet available. Do some homework and find the best match for your child and your family. In my book, Everything's Okay, I dedicate a chapter to Beepo. I still remember that nothing felt better than to be loved by my dog-it was unconditional, non-judgmental, and probably one of the best things my parents could have done for me. About the Author When Alesia Shute was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 7, her life was redirected as was that of her entire family. She would go on to survive six major surgeries that had never been tested on a child, several minor surgeries and countless hours of pain and months of hospitalization. Alesia had to grow up quickly and adjust to being sickly and different from others. Everything's Okay is her story of survival that details not only her recovery, but also her struggles through school, boys, marriage, and pregnancy, with some hilarious tales of life and family to boot. Contact Alesia directly at