For more than 25 years, the Doggie Brigade at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio has been bringing smiles and healing to patients and their families.
Doggie Brigade is the second oldest animal-assistance program in the country, as well as one of the largest. Not only do these dogs bring happiness throughout the hospital, but they’ve actually been shown to reduce patients’ blood pressure, stress, and anxiety levels as well as increase the children’s willingness to participate in their treatment program and get along better with the staff and other volunteers.
The Doggie Brigade started in 1992 with 8 dog handlers who were only allowed to visit one floor during a 2-hour block with only 1 dog at a time. The program has continued to grow and now has 80 dogs who have volunteered for as long as 12 years.
The volunteers are now allowed in all but a few areas of the hospital and spend an average of 5-10 minutes with each patient.
Is your dog fit to be the next Doggie Brigade member?
Your dog has to be at least one year old and must have lived with you for at least six months. They also need to pass thorough veterinary and behavioral assessments.
The Doggie Brigade accepts new applications in January and the assessments are performed in March of every year.
Once accepted into the Doggie Brigade program, teams must commit to at least 26 hospital visits per year and participate in two special events every year. There is no limit to how often a volunteer team can visit – as shown by Chris Witschey, who, according to the Akron Children’s Hospital Facebook page:
“…volunteers 5 days a week in our rehabilitation department with Gracie and Francis and 2 days a week in our Partial Hospitalization Program with Handsome, who’s deaf.”
Witschey and her dogs have put in more than 5,300 hours at the hospital – and counting.
If you don’t live near Akron, there are plenty of therapy dog programs around the country you can check into. Many require your dog to be certified as a Canine Good Citizen or be able to pass similar testing. Pet Partners is the program that backs the Doggie Brigade if you’d like to see if they have opportunities in your area.