NIH Stops Therapy Dogs From Visiting Sick Children

Penny Starr | October 7, 2013 | 4:17pm EDT
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In this Nov. 7, 2012, photo released by Shelter Me shows Finn, a former shelter dog bringing comfort to patient Jacob Chodash, who had a brain tumor removed, and his parents at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Shelter Me, Martin Ehleben)

( – The Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health has suspended its dog therapy program because of the government shutdown, according to John Burklow, spokesperson for NIH.

Burklow said the dogs, which pay visits to patients in the hospital, including children with cancer, have to seen by veterinarians, and a “team” on staff made the decision to suspend program.

“A vet needs to evaluate the dogs, and given that there is a 25 percent reduction in staff (furloughed), we focus our activities and staffing on the care of patients already at our hospital,” Burklow said.

Volunteers run the dog therapy program, but the veterinarians are on NIH staff and are paid as federal employees.

In an Oct. 3 interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Abbey Whetzel talked about her son, Sam, who is dying of leukemia and enjoyed it when he was visited by the dogs.

“They can only come once a week, but it's the highlight of Sam's week,” Whetzel said, adding that she was informed that the dogs would not be visiting because of the government shutdown.

“He was disappointed,” Whetzel said. “He really looks forward to the dogs coming.

“He has a special fondness for the little dogs that can come and just sit on his bed and lay down and curl up with him,” Whetzel said.

Burklow said the program would come back.

“We will resume the program once the government is re-opened,” Burklow said.

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