Both the VRCC and nearby Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital are actively involved in exploring new cancer treatments in animal populations, providing advancements in the treatment and control of the disease, as well as hope for eventually declaring victory over it. CSU’s comparative oncology program rates as the largest of its kind in the U.S. Specialists in medical oncology, nutrition, radiation therapy, surgical oncology, pathology, physics and specialty nursing work in concert with researchers to implement state-of-the-art, individualized therapies in chemotherapy as well as photon and electron radiation.
Dr. Robyn Elmslie, a board-certified veterinary oncologist at VRCC, blends traditional medical approaches for fighting cancer with innovative treatments that include gene therapy for localized tumors and electrophoresis (see below).
YAPS offers therapy on an entirely different level, one that addresses the emotional component of the illness. Says Chambers, “There are a lot of pet therapy programs out there, but this one appears to be unique.”
Ingalls agrees, expressing her hope that other children’s hospitals and veterinary centers around the country might eventually add this program to their treatment options. She also hopes that one day, YAPS is international in scope.
“This could become a world phenomenon,” she says. “Ultimately, of course, part of the success will always depend upon the depth of the connection made between the child and the pet.” Often, strong and enduring relationships are forged between entire families, and the YAPS program becomes a healing experience for all involved.
“The kids get really attached to the animals,” says Chambers. “They’ll tell things to the animals they won’t tell to people, even family—they feel free to express their deepest fears. Animals are nonjudgmental, and they don’t carry the emotional stigmas that people do. They come through the experience of disease a lot stronger than most people.”
“I think it’s a good thing for kids with cancer and kids with disabilities to know they have someone to listen to them. It’s hard, sometimes, not to have anybody to listen to your stories,” says Sean.