Named for the first canine to visit the children, the program originated in 1987 with Debbie Cobalis, the education director of the Humane Society and her own Sheltie, named Woody. Working with support and input from physicians and staff, the program now operates independently through the Child Life Department. Additional dogs have only enhanced what began long ago as an effort to bring smiles with cold noses, gentle paws and wagging tails.
When a child is hospitalized they face a new and strange environment, with new people taking care of them and sometimes painful procedures being done. Comfort can come from many sources. Familiar everyday sights assist children and their families in adjusting to the hospital. Research studies have proven that stroking or talking to a pet can reduce blood pressure and lower heart rate, indicating a reduction in stress and anxiety levels. Pets are non-threatening, respond unconditionally, and give unquestioning love and acceptance regardless of age or appearance. The gentle accepting friendship and wagging tail of a special visitor often provides a much-needed smile and a rest from the busy schedule of the hospital. The dog’s universal language, their instinctive gentleness and concern bring comfort to many children and their families at a time of need.
The Woody program dogs and handler participants are certified Pet Partner Teams by the International Delta Society. The Society requires the handlers and dogs pass a two-phase certification test, and Children’s Hospital provides additional training. Pet partners are screened through strict obedience, behavior and temperament evaluations. The Woody Pet-assisted Therapy dogs are brought to the hospital on most Fridays and invited to special events held at the hospital.
Careful screening, routine health examinations, weekly grooming, and attention to the smallest detail keep this valuable program available and of the highest quality for the children and their families at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. To us, what really matters is the smiles on the faces and squeals of delight from the children when they see these wonderful dogs dressed in seasonal garb wagging their tails waiting for a pat and a picture!
For more information call Lauren Powell, Volunteer Services Director at 324-0161.