Children's Health

Pet Recreation Debuts at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

Pet recreation is now available to the young patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. A partnership between West Michigan Therapy Dogs and the hospital will enable children to benefit from visits with a furry friend.

“Pet recreation is just one example of how Child Life Specialists meet the needs of children and families,” said Jodi Bauers, child life manager, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Pets are a regular part of many children’s lives. It’s only natural that we would bring a sense of home into their lives while receiving medical treatment.”

Benefits of pet recreation include:

Encourages Laughter, Play and Nurturing Behavior
Animals provide play, exploration and independence for children. A study published in People, Animals and Environment concludes that animals foster a more nurturing child. Play is natural for children and it’s hard to deny the positive benefits of bringing play into the hospital setting.

Positive Touch
In hospitals, most touch is uncomfortable or invasive. Although our goal is to minimize pain and maximize comfort, most touch in a hospital isn’t overly pleasant. The touch of an animal is safe, non-threatening and comforting.’

Positive Attention
Animals help children focus on something positive rather than their current medical situation. It’s amazing to see how quickly a child can turn from being sad and lonely to happy and excited once they know a dog is coming to visit.

Promotes Social Contact
Children and families feel more relaxed and comfortable in the presence of an animal. By bringing a sense of “home” into the hospital environment, we are fostering the healing of the child. Children feel more comfortable in the presence of a dog, and may be able to share more of their feelings with parents or health care providers.

“One of the biggest benefits of pet recreation is the dog’s ability to connect with the children,” added Bauers. “Dogs don’t discriminate. They don’t shy away from a child because of the way they look, talk or act. The dogs provide an unconditional love, and they look past tubes and wheelchairs to see a new friend.”

Pet recreation is available twice a month. A Child Life Specialist leads a team of four dogs and four adults to visit children throughout the hospital. Children must have no pet allergies, no fear of dogs, and they must be medically able to visit with the canine team.

Participating dogs must be a member of West Michigan Therapy Dogs and be Delta Society certified. Dogs must also be healthy, up-to-date on vaccinations and have an appropriate temperament to interact with children in a medical environment. Adult handlers are screened and oriented by both Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and West Michigan Therapy Dogs. Individuals should contact West Michigan Therapy Dogs at (616) 726-1256 if they are interested in becoming part of future volunteer pet recreation teams. Additional information is also available at

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a member of Spectrum Health, is West Michigan’s largest children’s hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. The team includes more than 100 specialists uniquely skilled in providing medical care to children, in over 40 outpatient clinical settings. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation.