On the third and fourth floor of the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid there are two rooms in which the hours fly by. On Tuesdays at five in the afternoon, four-legged furry beings, baptized as “blue dogs”, keep children and teenagers with cancer in the center company and that’s when they “forget everything, disconnect … It’s a an hour that runs like five minutes, ”Lorena Díez, director of hospitals at the Aladina Foundation, tells ABC.
For an hour a week, children enjoy a therapy with dogs whenever their state of health allows it. The initiative was launched in 2017 at the Madrid hospital and was born from the cooperation of the Blue Dogs Association, and the Aladina Foundation to help admitted patients, who this Saturday celebrate International Childhood Cancer Day.
“Dogs have the ability to create that bond with the patient without saying anything, without words, and therapeutically it is wonderful,” says Diez. Marina García, a pediatrician in the Hematology and Child Oncology section of the hospital, says that “the positive attitude helps the child to face admission well” and “facilitates the work of physicians.”
In addition, therapy is a way to connect children with the outside world. “The majority have very long periods of hospitalization, we are working with children who have not been out on the street for two or three months and who may suddenly have contact with a dog, it is a way to resume that link with the outside”, says Luz Jaramillo, Blue Dogs program coordinator. During the sessions, the little ones learn to care for and respect the animals, comb them, feed them and, teenagers, they are even allowed to walk them in the hospital corridors and teach them tricks.
Antonella, a nine-year-old girl with leukemia, has not been able to leave Madrid’s hospital for five months and still has at least two left, in addition to a bone marrow transplant, to be able to return home. When he sees Maya, one of the therapy bitches, his smile is intuited the second under his mask. The link between the two is such that he even identifies with her: “It’s like me, he likes to eat a lot.”
«This is a very emotional disease, there are chemo that put her in a bad mood and when she has contact with the dogs, she arrives more relaxed in the room, laughs more and is all the time in the room talking about what she has done with Maya» , explains Kisi Ladino, his mother. Therapy marks a before and after in your hospital stay. «Being here day and night is not easy for her or for us, her family, but on Tuesdays I notice her more expressive, she is more active … it counteracts the effect of the chemo that causes her to lose strength and be a little depressed », He says.
Beat the blockade
Patients are not the only ones who favor therapy. “We consider the families the secondary beneficiaries because although we do not work directly with them, they are the ones that pick up the mood that the child shows in the session,” says Jaramillo. In this sense, the oncologist adds that “parents, seeing their children calmer, have a positive attitude towards the hospital and treatment.”
This is a “very important” initiative for minors, but especially for adolescents because “it helps them overcome the blockage and anger in which they sometimes submerge when treatments begin,” according to the head of Dogs Blue. The coordinator cannot help remembering the testimony of the family of a teenager who told him in one of the first therapies that in 20 days they had been in the hospital, it was the first time they had seen him really smile.
Now, thanks to the great results of the initiative, in just two weeks, the Aladina Foundation and the Blue Dogs Association will implement the measure at the Virgen del Rocío Hospital in Seville. And both organizations are trying to extend this initiative to other hospitals, although it is difficult to get dogs into a hospital. “Being an oncological unit, the beginnings cost because they are children who are very low on defenses and cannot even be with their pets,” says Diez.
The director of hospitals of the Aladina Foundation details that the most difficult task is to explain to the children why they cannot be with their animals, but with the “blue dogs”. According to the expert, “those of the foundation have all kinds of vaccines that none of our domestic dogs have and are also specialized to be in an oncology unit.” .