QUITO, Ecuador – Every Wednesday, Lancelot and Juci scamper into a special mission: nudging and pawing youngsters into smiles at the only hospital in Ecuador's capital that treats children with cancer.
Veronica Pardo, the hospital volunteer who owns the dogs, says the animals are used to cheer up the most discouraged of the patients, especially those with the grimmest prognosis.
"Sometimes they do not want to eat, their moms haven't visited them, they don't want to take their medicine, or they don't want to talk with the doctor," Pardo said.
Then she brings her dogs in on Wednesdays, and small miracles happen as the sick youngsters caress and cuddle the dogs. "The children smile, talk. They're infused with life."
Pardo recalled a patient named Dana, a 7-year-old girl who took a special liking to Lancelot, a 15-month-old American cocker spaniel, before she died early this month.
"When she died, her parents told me: 'You have no idea how my daughter had fun on Wednesdays,'" Pardo said.
When Pardo first started bringing dogs in 2005, they stayed in the hospital garden and played with children before chemotherapy treatments.
Over the next five years, statistics at the hospital showed that on Wednesdays, fewer children had to be kept over because of problems after chemotherapy. Doctors found that youngsters' adrenaline levels rose from being with the dogs, boosting their resistance to chemo's side effects.
So the hospital began allowing Pardo's dogs to visit children in their beds. She and her husband have 18 dogs in all that they work with.
Edison, an 8-year-old farm child whose cancer is declining, is delighted to see Juci, a 5-year-old Parson Russell terrier, holding her tight.
"He knows a lot about animals, because they live in the country," Pardo said.
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in from Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.