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Animal-assisted activities for kids with cancer
Why we need research and how you can help

I was asked by health researcher, Jessica Chubak, PhD, to post this notice of the work that she is doing on the effects of pet visitation programs on children with cancer. To me, her study—which she is trying to raise crowd funding for— seems to be very worthwhile, so thought you would be interested in learning about it too. —Claudia Kawczynska, Editor

 

Animal-assisted activities for kids with cancer: why we need research and how you can help

Can pet visits help kids with cancer? Ask children with cancer who get to see and touch therapy dogs. Ask parents, doctors, nurses and animal-assisted activities volunteers. The answer is unequivocally: yes, pet visits help.

I’m an animal lover and have been since I was a kid. I’m also a scientist who is trying to prevent cancer and make life better for people who have it. I’m planning a study on pet visits for kids with cancer.  You might reasonably ask: Don't we already know those visits help? Do we really need more research?

Here’s why we do:

1) We need to know about the safety of pet visits for kids with cancer. I've talked with pediatric oncology clinics around the country. Many cancer programs don’t allow animal-assisted activities, primarily because of safety worries, specifically infections, in this vulnerable group of kids. They want hard evidence (see #3).

2) We have to learn exactly how animal visits can help. Visits from pets won’t make everything better for kids with cancer. Pet visits might reduce anxiety but not pain. Or they might relieve pain but not fatigue. If we know what parts of pediatric cancer treatment are easier with pet visits, we’ll know how to make effective animal-assisted activities programs for kids with cancer. If we identify areas where pet visits don't help, we know where to focus our attention on developing other interventions.

3) It’s all about medical evidence. Doctors, nurses, and parents of pediatric cancer patients want to see solid support from careful studies before starting animal assisted activity programs. It’s important to have evidence for any treatment, including supportive care. And even when research gives us expected answers, it often provides additional information. We might not be surprised if a study shows that visits from pets relieve stress in kids with cancer. But we also want to know if group or private visits work best, and when and where visits are most helpful, in the waiting room or after a procedure? How often should visits happen and how long should they last? We need answers to help design effective animal-assisted activities for young cancer patients.

My research focuses on developing safe and effective animal-assisted activities for kids with cancer, based on ideas, concerns, and solutions from the kids, their families, and their health care providers. My crowdfunding campaign will help fund this research. I hope you'll support this project, maybe with a donation (even a small amount), but especially by spreading the word to others.

I’ve thought about this study a lot and I think it is important to do. If you are interested in sharing your ideas on why you think it's important—or why it isn't—please leave a comment. Thank you.

 

More about Jessica Chubak

I am a faculty member at Group Health Research Institute, where my research focus is improving cancer screening, care, and survivorship. My new project is inspired, in part, by my volunteer work after college. I helped in the pediatric ward of a hospital. Working with children and families I saw how play distracted them from the stress of being in the hospital. As a lover of pets, I find animals to be incredible companions. After learning about the Pet Partners program and promising preliminary work in Canada, I decided to include animal-assisted activities for children with cancer in my research program.

 

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