MENTAL HEALTH

Dogs provide therapy in a Brazilian hospital

  • In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, 20-year-old patient Gleisiane Oliveira watches Shitzu dog named Mille be given a treat on her bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. The animals are the "stars of the project," according to Nayara Brea who coordinates a pet therapy program for patients with advanced cancer, those living with chronic diseases and recovering from trauma. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

    In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, 20-year-old patient Gleisiane Oliveira watches Shitzu dog named Mille be given a treat on her bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. The animals are the "stars of the project," according to Nayara Brea who coordinates a pet therapy program for patients with advanced cancer, those living with chronic diseases and recovering from trauma. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

  • In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, Elizangela Santos, a 35-year-old receiving cancer treatment, rubs the chin of a Schnauzer dog named Paola in her bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. Every Thursday, patients here receive visits from a special breed of therapists: dogs trained to help them in their recovery from disease or injury. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

    In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, Elizangela Santos, a 35-year-old receiving cancer treatment, rubs the chin of a Schnauzer dog named Paola in her bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. Every Thursday, patients here receive visits from a special breed of therapists: dogs trained to help them in their recovery from disease or injury. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

  • In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, Nivaldo Lopes, a 60-year-old geriatric patient, pets a Schnauzer dog named Paola in his bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. The hospital's pet therapy program was set up to help patients with advanced cancer and those living with chronic diseases or recovering from trauma. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

    In this Nov. 17, 2016 photo, Nivaldo Lopes, a 60-year-old geriatric patient, pets a Schnauzer dog named Paola in his bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. The hospital's pet therapy program was set up to help patients with advanced cancer and those living with chronic diseases or recovering from trauma. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.

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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."