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Hospital pet therapy dogs bring joy to children
by Caroline Young
March 20, 2013 06:33 PM | 8334 views | 1 1 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Special Photo<br>
One of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s pet therapy dogs, Casper, comforts patient Emmy Mims while she recovers from abdominal surgery.
Special Photo
One of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s pet therapy dogs, Casper, comforts patient Emmy Mims while she recovers from abdominal surgery.
It was Christmas Eve 2009 and 3-year-old Emmy Mims had just had emergency surgery to remove an abdominal cyst and two more inches of her intestine.

Her doctor told her she must walk before leaving Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite in Sandy Springs, but she refused … until Casper helped her.

“We got her to stand up,” said mother Gillian Mims, of Woodstock. “We talked her into holding Casper’s leash. … We gave him the lead and she walked all around the hall, with Casper leading her.”

Casper, one of the four golden retrievers of the Children’s pet therapy programs, helped Emmy and the rest of the Mims family through a tough time, in and out of the hospital.

“That’s all she wanted to do, be with Casper,” Gillian said. “Unfortunately, in February 2010, we had to go back because of complications from the surgery. Immediately, Emmy wanted to see Casper.”

In 2009, Casper was the first therapy dog on staff.

“I think it brings a little piece of home. For those individuals that have their own dogs or animals, it brings a familiarity. … I think dogs, in particular, love you no matter what,” said Lisa Kinsel, manager of volunteer services at Scottish Rite and Casper’s “mom,” or handler.

Kinsel, of Roswell, said all facility dogs come from the Milton-based organization Canine Assistants, and dogs are intensely trained for 18 to 24 months in everything from basic obedience skills to learning how to open doors, turn on lights and pull wheelchairs.

“These dogs are very smart and intuitive,” Kinsel said. “When [Casper] is in a [hospital] bed, he needs to be able to listen to me carefully when I tell him where he needs to sit or lay.”

In Emmy’s case, Casper instinctively laid where he could to avoid her abdominal region, Kinsel said.

“Another patient was very ill in the ICU and Casper knew about machines and tubes. Nothing bothered him,” she said. “He was careful when stepping around machinery and tubes children have coming in and out of them.”

Kinsel said children are motivated by Casper, as well as the three other therapy dogs on the Children’s staff: Bella, Button and Izzy, all of which are golden retriever/lab mixes, with the exception of Bella who is a full-bred golden. Gillian described Casper’s presence as “calming” with a sense of “innocent normalcy.”

“It’s chaotic. Your child hurts and you don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “Just to bring sense of innocence and joy to a crazy, emotional roller-coaster ride was wonderful and impacted our lives so much.”

Fortunately, Emmy, now 6, is healthy today and has a golden retriever of her own, named Finder. Gillian said Emmy attends Casper’s birthday celebrations and has painted pictures of him hanging on her bedroom walls.

“When we have doctor appointments over at Scottish Rite, we stop by and see him,” she said.

The family intends to have Finder trained through Roswell-based Happy Tails Pet Therapy, Gillian said, once he is a little older and calmer.

“I don’t know how to repay what sense of joy they brought to us during that hectic, confusing time,” she said. “I find that’s the least I could do.”


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