Volunteer Dogs and Their Owners Offer Unique Therapeutic Benefits for Patients, Families and Staff

Released: 2/21/2013
Volunteers Judy Bunge with her therapy dog, Lester, and Cindy Chamberlain with her therapy dog, Kipling while visiting with patients.

The Volunteer Dog Therapy Program at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo has proven to reduce anxiety, heart rate and provide other therapeutic benefits for patients, their families and staff. The canine volunteers are uniquely capable of breaking through some sadness, discomfort or fear patients and families may experience.  For staff, it can be a unique way to break up the work day. 

The volunteer dog therapy program was established at Women & Children’s Hospital in 1999 by Judy Bunge, a local veterinary technician, Dr. Sharon Smith, a pediatric oncologist, and Dena Sterns, Child Life Specialist.  Established as an initiative of the Child Life Department, with a mission to encourage normalization for all patients, and Volunteer Services, these daily bedside and waiting room visits are made to many areas throughout Women & Children’s Hospital.

Dena Sterns is consistently impressed with the positive effects these dogs have on the patients.  “They can pick up on the saddest of a child in the playroom and will immediately go to a child crying or in pain.  These encounters provide unconditional love and comfort.”

Currently, there are 26 dogs with volunteer owners enrolled in the program.  These dogs have been trained through multiple behavioral tests and evaluations, and are registered as volunteers along with their owners.   They are regularly seen throughout the hospital with Kaleida Health badges and wearing purple or blue bandanas provided by Volunteer Services.

For more information on the Dog Therapy Program at Women & Children’s Hospital, please contact the Child Life Department at (716) 878-7681 or Volunteer Services at (716) 878-7221

Child Life Specialists at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo are available to offer emotional support, teaching prior to procedures, and procedural accompaniment to patients and families.  They are specially trained to work with children on a developmentally appropriate level, helping them cope with their hospital stay through education and fun activities.