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Can Oncol Nurs J. 2004 Fall;14(4):217-22.

Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study.

[Article in English, French]

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  • 1Faculty of Nursing, Laval University, Quebec City.


Children living with cancer must cope with the disease, frequent hospitalizations, aggressive treatments and numerous treatment side effects. Combined, these stressors can lead to adverse biopsychosocial effects. An animal therapy program called "A Magical Dream" was instituted for children hospitalized in pediatric oncology to promote their well-being during hospitalization and facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic process. The main goal of this preliminary study was to complete a descriptive assessment of the program implementation using Donabedian's quality model. This study aims more specifically at documenting the observed connection between participating in the program, quality of care and satisfaction of participating parents and nurses. A total of 16 parents of children and 12 nurses took part in the implementation study and composed the sample. Data were collected through two self-administered questionnaires intended for parents and one questionnaire for nurses. Evaluating the quality of the animal therapy program includes issues related to user profiles, animal therapy intervention process, organizational structure and client outcomes. It appears that dog-assisted therapy may contribute to alleviate psychological distress in children and parents, facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic process, and promote their well-being while hospitalized. The goal of a second phase to the project will be to verify the effectiveness of the animal therapy intervention by targeting more specifically children hospitalized with solid tumours. Stemming from a nursing initiative started in 1999, this project aims to promote the well-being of children living with cancer during their hospitalization, reduce their emotional distress and facilitate their adaptation to the therapeutic (psychological, physical and social) process by promoting the emergence of special bonds between children and animals. The animal therapy program at CHUQ allows children accompanied by a parent to spend a whole day with a dog while being hospitalized in a room that is safe, warm and family friendly (Landry et al., 2000). In addition to facilitating the child's adaptation, this initiative may contribute to improving the quality of care, especially by offering a service for which client outcomes have already been noted (refreshing rest, better nourishment, physical exercise, socialization, participation in recreational activities, verbalization of fears and concerns, feeling less anxious, happier, etc.). Animal therapy is defined as a clinical method aiming to promote the natural and healing bonds that exist between humans and animals, both for preventive and therapeutic reasons (Daoust, 1987). The rationale behind this practice is that animals naturally stimulate an attraction and involvement response in humans (Brodie & Biley, 1999), which is then reflected in the person's well-being. As well-being is inconsistent with the state of emotional distress, animal-assisted therapy may be a beneficial intervention to alleviate distress in the child, his family and caregivers.

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