Kids from the St. Ludwig Children’s Hospital in Krakow were recently provided with dog therapy in an initiative organized by Warsaw Foundation, Cze-Ne-Ka. The children were absolutely delighted and the medical staff a little bit nervous. But after the session they all came to the conclusion that dog companionship can have very positive therapeutic effects.
The therapy dogs are believed to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and raise spirits of young patients. For children with psychological disabilities, the dogs are helpful in overcoming speech and emotional disorders. The animals can bring a child into closer contact with the outside world and improve the relations with medical staff. St. Ludwig Children’s Hospital is the first in Krakow to incorporate dog therapy into medical treatment. Its doctors believe that it can be especially helpful in the rehabilitation, psychiatric and neurological wards.
The animals’ presence in the hospital has created some concerns about hygiene. But the doctors ensure that there is no epidemic danger because of rigorous health requirements for therapy dogs. They are examined thoroughly and vaccinated before entering the hospital ward. Every dog is trained by professionals. It has to get along well with children, be friendly, patient, gentle, confident and at ease in all situations. It must enjoy human contact and be content to be handled, sometimes clumsily. In comparison with Western Europe and North America, dog therapy is still not very common in Poland, even though its benefits have been known here since 1987. There are only about 100 therapy dogs in Poland.
The Cze-Ne-Ka Foundation would like to expand the therapy from Warsaw to smaller health centers. The concept of a therapy dog is often attributed to an American Elaine Smith. In 1976 she started a program for training dogs to visit hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions and schools and to help people with special needs. Since then, the worldwide demand for therapy dogs continues to grow. The visit was organized by the “Let’s Help Together” (“Pomozmy Razem”) program.