SAN DIEGO, Nov. 16 (Reuters) – There is no hesitation about the vaccine like that of a 9-year-old girl staring into the glitter of a hypodermic needle.
And there is no cure like Ollie, a 6-year-old goldendoodle therapy dog who helps children at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego overcome the fear associated with getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ollie and 14 other dogs from the PetSmart Paws for Hope Canine Therapy Program have been helping children ages 5 to 11 since they became eligible for the vaccine earlier this month.
Across the United States, adults are resisting shots of mistrust due to how quickly the vaccines have been rolled out, questions about potential side effects, or in many cases, fear driven by false rumours. Kids are just afraid it’s going to hurt.
The anticipation of a shot at Rady’s vaccine clinic made 9-year-old Avery Smith burst into tears. Then Ollie came in and sat down at her feet. Avery’s mother, Kelli Donahue, took a photo of her with the dog and Avery’s sister Olive, 6.
“It helped me because I’d never had a COVID vaccine before and I didn’t know what it felt like. But when I saw the dog, it helped calm me down,” Avery said.
Before the vaccine, the dogs already had jobs that brought joy to patients admitted to children’s hospitals, many of them battling cancer or other illnesses that can sap the morale of patients, their parents and hospital staff.
“Sometimes a parent will say, ‘He’s asleep from his surgery, but can I pet the dog?’” said Ollie’s owner, Kristin Gist, 75, a canine therapy volunteer and former director of hospital programs. “They can really cuddle with the dog and feel better too.”
When COVID restrictions hit early last year, about 20,000 annual dog visits ground to a halt. They started again about three months ago.
“There was nothing. It was quiet. The kids were bored,” said Carlos Delgado, a hospital spokesperson. “So thank goodness we were able to start bringing the program back. Even a three minute visit with a dog makes a difference to the day.”
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Donna Bryson and Lisa Shumaker
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