Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Paging Doctor Dog"

Doctor Dog

Okay, so I'm a sucker for heart-warming animal stories:
CHENGDU, CHINA – A tangible buzz courses through the Hua Xi cancer hospice when the newest "doctors" make their rounds. Faces of patients light up with broad grins, and chatter and laughter fill the halls.

What this group lacks in medical training, they make up for with their bedside manner.

Meet China's "Dr. Dogs." These three - a golden retriever, a shih-tzu, and a Chinese toy mix - are just some of the more than 300 "canine consultants" from Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), an animal-welfare charity based in Hong Kong. They're practicing "animal therapy" - the theory that pet companionship can improve a patient's mental well-being which, in turn, promotes healing...

..."I just love life," says Yu Shu Jun, a patient here. "Whenever I see dogs, or any living creature, it makes me so happy."

While animal therapy is common in the United States and Europe, it's a relatively new phenomenon here. Dr. Dogs, which rescues dozens of stray dogs from animal markets and helps pet owners train their pups to participate, is one of the first of its kind in China and the largest animal- therapy program here.

"Dr. Dogs has brought a lot of health and happiness to the patients," says Jiang Jian Jun, a physician. He says the dogs brighten the hospital's atmosphere.

Dr. Dogs is a 14-year-old endeavor already operating in five other Asian countries. Last November it began working inside mainland China. AAF was already operating in Chengdu, where it has a base for its primary mission: rescuing Asiatic black bears kept captive for their bile. The program made a smaller foray in Beijing and is eyeing other Chinese cities even as its operations across Asia grow and thrive.

Organizers put out word to local health-care organizations that they had dogs available to cheer up patients. To their surprise, the director of the Chengdu hospice, who studied in Britain and knew the benefits of animal therapy, welcomed them.

"I never imagined we'd be allowed to come into the hospital here," says Toby Zhang, a native of western China who runs the program in Chengdu. "It's very strange."

This is the sixth time the dogs have visited the hospice, and with each round the patients and staff grow more excited about the visits.

There was apprehension at first, especially among the nurses, says Rainbow Zhu, another AAF staffer. Now the nurses gather around the dogs, as eager as the patients to see them and play.
All together now....awwwwww.....

(story & photo via CSM)

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