BRASILIA, Brazil – Each week, patients at the Support Hospital of Brasilia receive visits from a special breed of therapist: dogs trained to help them recover from disease or injury.
Big and small, from German shepherds to Shih Tzus, the dogs get into bed with some patients to snuggle during the 15-minute visits. Folks who are more mobile may take an animal to a crafts class, or play with it in the hallways.
Designed for people who have advanced-stage cancer, live with chronic disease or are recovering from trauma, the program of canine interactions assists with both mental and physical rehabilitation.
"A bit of the sadness goes away," said Jaqueline Castro, a 27-year-old patient with a degenerative nerve disorder who received three visits in a month.
The project began about five months ago and now counts 60 volunteers who bring their pets to the hospital in Brazil's capital each week.
But not just any old mutt can make the cut: Only about one out of every 10 dogs whose owners volunteer is accepted, according to program coordinator Nayara Brea.
The animals must pass extensive health checks and undergo training, as they are brought right into the wards of the hospital. They must be exceptionally calm to avoid stressing out the patients. They can't bark, and they have to be gentle with both humans and other canines.
A therapy dog "accepts the patients without any judgment," said Valeria Carvalho, who brings her miniature Schnauzer, Paola, to the hospital. "People start to have a different perspective on life, on health."