How Pet Therapy Helps Kids with Special Needs

How Pet Therapy Helps Kids with Special Needs

How Pet Therapy Helps Kids with Special Needs

Pet therapy helps children with special needs to reach rehabilitative goals, experience greater well-being, and improve physical, social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Our Pet therapy program has been growing for over 10 years and was further enriched in 2009 when we partnered with the North Shore Animal League America.

Pet Therapy is Evidence-Based and Gets Results

Pet Therapy is a program that brings certified therapy dogs to children with special needs or medically complex conditions to St. Mary’s Hospital for Children. This animal-assisted therapy provides a safe, supervised and fun environment for St. Mary’s Kids to play and explore with the animals. They can play fetch, pet dogs and even feed them treats, depending on their comfort levels and unique needs. For kids that need individualized attention, we offer individual pet therapy sessions, while others find more fun and enjoyment in group circle sessions with our beloved therapy dogs. We can even conduct pet therapy bedside for St. Mary’s Kids who are confined in a bed. 

Kids in our St. Mary’s day therapy programs can enjoy pet therapy as can children in our inpatient program. In fact, our therapy dogs can help ease some Our certified therapy dogs can be there for St. Mary’s Kids during difficult or unpleasant therapy sessions, providing distraction and emotional support. 

It may be clear that pet therapy is fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. Both the children and animals benefit from the stimulation, emotional support, and simple fun of our afternoons with these certified therapy dogs. 

However, there’s more to pet therapy than a fun day for St. Mary’s Kids. Over 10 years of experience, our results show that pet therapy can be helpful in managing the stress that kids deal with when living with complex medical conditions. Children report over and over again that they are calmer when in the presence of our therapy dogs. 

Even more, St. Mary’s Kids who participate in pet therapy continue to show improvements in a number of key therapeutic areas, including:

  • improved vocalization
  • use of their non-dominant hands
  • improved heartbeat
  • stress reduction
  • enhanced socialization

Meet the Pet Therapy Dogs

We work with seven different pet therapy dogs at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, all certified in helping children with special needs and medically complex conditions. We work with Therapy Dogs of Long Island and Polo Spreads Love for years of great results. Here are some of our beloved dog friends who brighten the days for St. Mary’s Kids: 

Barbie – This 5-year-old Goldendoodle is known for her loving, friendly personality. She’s been a certified therapy dog since she was 2 years old. She loves to perform small tricks like sitting on request or giving her paw to her friends. She also has her own medical condition: she takes herbs to treat her chronic muscle spasms twice a day. She visits kids and adults on Long Island with great results!

Ken – Barbie’s “brother” from Long Island Therapy Dogs, Ken is a 5-year-old Goldendoodle who loves to be active and playful with St. Mary’s Kids. He’s a particular fan of playing fetch with a ball! At the same time, Ken is also a great fit for St. Mary’s Kids who may be more nervous around dogs. He always stays patient and respects boundaries; in fact, he’s known as the most obedient of all of the therapy dogs. He’s been working with kids since he was only one year old. 

Pumpkin – This petite 2-year-old Shichon especially loves working with St. Mary’s Kids as a therapy dog. She’s been providing pet therapy since she was one year old. Many smaller kids are very comfortable with her since she is very small, manageable and huggable. She loves playing and hugging small children in particular! 

Polo – Polo is one of the most famous therapy dogs in New York, appearing at charity events and fundraising galas on a regular basis. He’s been a therapy dog since 2013, and he still takes great joy in helping kids and adults in New York with his weekly hospital visits. With his slogan of “Spread Love,” Polo loves making St. Mary’s Kids’ lives more fun

Not Just Dogs: Pet Therapy On the Go

Pet therapy in New York isn’t limited to the therapy dogs that come to the St. Mary’s campus. Animal interaction has been so positive for St. Mary’s Kids that we also organize visits from friendly horses for play, interaction and even rides. In addition, we also organize field trips to zoos and centers where kids have the opportunity to watch and interact with animals, including the Alley Pond Conservation Center and the Bronx Zoo. 

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children is committed to improving the health and quality of life for children and families with special needs. We are New York’s largest and most experienced provider of long-term care to children with medically complex conditions and New York City’s only post-acute care facility for children.  At St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, we aim to give our kids and their families more than they had dreamed possible.


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