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Four-Legged Therapy

Therapy dog Sven with his handler Britta Carr

Children’s first-ever resident facility dog, Sven, is a popular, four-legged employee trained to assist with specialized, interventional therapies – and help make the hospital a less scary place to be.

The 1-year-old golden retriever joined the Children’s team in November 2016. Since then, he has been bringing joy and comfort to everyone he meets.

“The facility dog assists our Child Life staff in providing support and normalization in the hospital setting,” says Terry Patterson, Children’s manager of Family Resources. “This is more than just a diversion; this is therapy.”

It’s that distinction that sets Sven as a complement to Children’s handful of pet therapy dogs and volunteers, who frequent the hospital for a few hours each week to deliver feel-good diversion and distraction.

Sven has been training for his role since birth with Canine Assistants — a non-profit organization that trains and provides service dogs for individuals with physical disabilities and hospitals. His handler is Child Life specialist Britta Carr. The two work and live together 24/7.

Carr directs Sven as they provide various therapeutic interventions needed throughout Children’s inpatient units and outpatient oncology clinic. Sometimes the team is brought in to motivate a patient to comply with their treatment plan — whether that’s taking a medicine or getting them out of bed to walk or participate in therapy.

“The reward of being with the dog can be key to a child’s positive outcome, incentivizing them to do things that might not feel good,” explains Patterson. “When a

Sven can ease a child’s fear and anxiety before a CT scan by demonstrating the process first—or just by being there to provide comfort along the way.

parent or nurse or child life specialist can’t get a patient to do something, they might do it for the dog.”

Carr and Sven also are called in to offer bereavement support in end-of-life situations. Having a dog to hug and pet in those sad moments can be a comfort to siblings, as well as staff. Sven also is great working with children with special needs, especially those who can’t communicate verbally.

While patients, family members and staff are already enjoying the benefits Sven brings to the hospital,
Children’s Foundation is looking for a generous donor to help offset the costs of Sven’s training and other expenses associated with his care and 40-hour-per week role at Children’s.

Patterson says the versatile role Sven plays now will be increasingly in demand, as Children’s continually looks to improve the outcomes and experiences of all patient families. “When Sven is around, it completely changes the atmosphere,” Patterson says. “They’re not thinking about being a patient anymore; they’re thinking about being a normal kid.”