A magical dream: A pilot project in animal-assisted therapy in pediatric oncology

France Bouchard, Marie Landry, Marthe Belles-Isles, Johanne Gagnon


For children with cancer, being hospitalized represents a great source of stress. Hospitalized children are not only deprived of their familiar and comforting world, but they must also face various and often painful treatments. They must quickly adapt to new people and to an environment that is very different from that of their homes. They have greater safety needs. Thus, it is important to offer these children concrete ways to better adapt to the stresses of hospitalization. Animal-assisted therapy, considered within this project as a novel approach to care, constitutes an interesting solution. It involves using the privileged relation between children and animals to foster the process of adaptation to illness and the hospital environment.

The experience described in this article is a one-year pilot project completed on a pediatric oncology unit. A priori, an already very heavy workload, the vulnerability of the patients, and many constraints added to the concerns related to the presence of animals on a tertiary care unit. A postiori, the rigorous design and implementation process of the pilot project, the strong involvement and engagement of volunteers and professionals, the quality of the participating “therapeutic” dogs, the originality of the entire process, and the satisfaction of the patients and nursing staff contributed to its success and to establishing the basis for a permanent implementation of this special care program for children hospitalized with cancer.

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