A pet project that uses dogs to lift the spirits of young patients at a children’s hospital in Dubai has been hailed a success.
The visits not only provide a much-needed distraction for the children who are undergoing treatment, it has also encouraged them to take a keen interest in reading and even helped some of them to overcome a fear of animals.
The National paid a visit to the hospital on Sunday afternoon, when the children were meeting Millie.
“Programmes like this help to motivate children who are undergoing therapies every day and I can see the difference it is making to my own daughter,” said Cathy Paul-Fitjen, a Dubai resident whose 5-year-old daughter, Milou, has an ultra-rare condition.
“It helps encourage her to get out of her room, and while she can distract herself with an iPad it’s not as productive.
“What child doesn’t love a cute little dog?”
Milou has a condition that affects the communication between her muscles and her brain, which impairs her movement.
“She has a lot of complications with her mobility,” said Ms Paul-Fetjen, from the Netherlands.
“We actually have a service dog at home, a Labrador that works with Milou, and it helped give her the confidence to do speech therapy and learn sign language.
“Dogs also make great psychological and emotional companions.”
Another mother whose child takes part in the programme said it was a first for both herself and her son.
“I was really scared of dogs and this is my first time to touch one,” said Emirati Nusaiba Al Marzooqi, whose 2-year-old son, Nassr, has a rare genetic disorder.
“Nassr had a lot of fun and he really enjoyed hearing the stories.”
Canine chums help children to read and relax
Reading Dogs UAE has visited several schools in the country already but Al Jalila is the first hospital the team has worked with, said the group’s Catherine Broad.
“The dogs are trained to engage with the children and help them relax, and it helps build up their confidence,” said Ms Broad, who reads to the children in the company of Millie the Pug.
“It’s a great way to get children reading, too, as they feel Millie is listening to them and they relax and open up.
“It breaks the day up, too, for the children and gives them something different to do.”
Finding ways to keep children stimulated while they are receiving treatment is a crucial task, the hospital’s marketing manager said.
“As an adult patient in a hospital, it’s relatively easy to find something to do when you get bored,” Farhad Seddiq said.
“That is not the case with child patients, though. We have to create ways to stop them getting bored and keep their minds active.
“Animal therapy has proven to be extremely successful in other parts of the world, so we thought it would be beneficial to the children here.”