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Paws of Love Helps Children Emerge From Their Shells

Interacting with pets has physical and emotional benefits for children with illnesses.

Interacting with pets has physical and emotional benefits for children with illnesses.*
*Photo used for illustrative purposes only.

In the spring of 2016, Eli was diagnosed with a serious chronic disorder. As the realities of his new life, one where he would be more restricted in his movement, sunk in, he became more withdrawn. Concerned, they confided their worries to their Chai Lifeline West Coast case manager.

“I have a great solution,” she said.

The next week, Eli’s mom announced, “There’s someone here who wants to meet you.” Eli walked outside and was greeted by Rosie, a Paws of Love volunteer, and Shep, her soft, fluffy dog.

“Can I pet him,” Eli asked uncertainly.

“Sure.”

Eli knelt down beside the dog, who sat beside him. Within a few minutes, boy and dog were one. Eli had his arms around the pup, and for the first time in several weeks, he seemed to come out of his shell. Rosie and Shep returned several times; with each visit, Eli’s mood brightened.  By September, Eli was ready to tackle the combination of his illness and the school year.

How much of this transformation was due to Paws of Love?

According to Randi Grossman, Chai Lifeline West Coast director, “MRI scans of dogs’ brains have shown that their internal reward centers are activated by interactions with humans. Other experiments have shown that the soft, warm touch and unconditional love of a dog lowers anxiety and blood pressure and improves mood and isolation. The dogs are patient with children and extremely sweet tempered. They enjoy their ‘work,’ and our families love the visits.”

Paws of Love sends teams of handlers and dogs to the homes of children living with illness or loss. Each dog undergoes a rigorous training program and is certified by a national pet therapy certification agency, and the team is trained by Chai Lifeline and overseen by Chai Lifeline’s case managers. The West Coast initiative is sponsored by Chai Lifeline supporters (and dog lovers) Ezra and Lauren Kest and family,

“Shep turned Eli’s life around,” asserted his mother, who admitted that she was awed by the ability of the four-legged ‘therapist’ to reach her son when more traditional methods fell short. “He loves Shep and looks forward to his visits.

“Now he wants a dog of his own, but I think we’re going to stick with Shep for a while longer,” she laughed.

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