Those seeking to donate to Animal-Assisted Therapy at Gillette should visit our fundraising page.



The hospital can be a scary place for anyone, much less a young child or teenager. Many of the children we see at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare will require one, if not multiple surgeries over the course of their lives. Along with these procedures can come lengthy inpatient rehabilitation stays.

“Recovery time after a surgery, traumatic injury or illness is heavily influenced by a child’s ability to participate in the rehabilitation process,” says Emily DeBreto, an occupational therapist at Gillette. “How fast we can get our patients up and moving following these events plays a large role in how quickly they recover, but pain, fear, and anxiety can be significant barriers to a child beginning therapy.”

Finding ways to motivate a child to move after surgery or an injury can be difficult, and what motivates one child may not always work for another. Thanks to a new pilot program at Gillette, motivation is being found through the assistance of some four-legged friends.

“Dogs are well-loved by so many children, and they provide a source of comfort and familiarity within the hospital environment,” DeBreto adds. “While we’ve had volunteers bring in therapy dogs to Gillette for comfort, our goal moving forward is to get our dogs involved with the more functional aspects of the therapy we’re providing, and also improve recovery time. When a child’s focus shifts from their pain and anxiety to having fun with a therapy dog, their ability to participate in challenging therapeutic activities improves.”

The current research on the application of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) suggests that children who have a therapy dog participate in therapy with them experience a reduction in physical and emotional pain, reduced levels of Cortisol (the stress hormone), lowered blood pressure, increased levels of Oxytocin (the bonding hormone) as well as increases in spontaneous language and social skills.

To Parents, the Impact Can’t Be Overstated

Kaidyn Micek, 5, had a selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) in December of 2016. It is common for patients to stay at Gillette for up to six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation following the surgery. Outside of their therapy session, much of this time is spent immobile on what is known as a prone cart.

“I want most parents to imagine trying to keep your child in good spirits for this amount of time in the hospital,” says Heather Micek, Kaidyn’s mother. “The one thing that always made Kaidyn happy was the time she spent with the therapy dogs.”

Kaidyn was at the hospital while DeBreto and the rehabilitation team were in the initial stages of implementing the animal-assisted pilot program, and the Miceks say that animal-assisted interventions were invaluable.

“The hospital can be an intimidating place for a child. So any appearance of something that was familiar provided comfort,” says Micek. “There were days that Kaidyn didn’t want to do her therapy, but when the dog was there, it made it seem like nothing bad could happen. Kaidyn has a dog at home, and having that friendly animal nearby made her feel safe. I think most pet owners can identify with that feeling.”

Expanding the Animal-Assisted Program at Gillette

Based upon the success of the animal-assisted pilot program, DeBreto hopes to expand the amount of volunteer therapy dogs in the program and increase their participation in several of Gillette’s outpatient clinics located throughout the metro.

There are costs associated with the specialized training the volunteer dogs require, as well as with the administration of the program. Gillette is currently seeking donations from animal loving individuals who would like to be a part of the expansion of the program.

Those seeking to donate to Animal-Assisted Therapy at Gillette should visit our fundraising page.

“Every little bit helps,” says DeBreto. “This is really an opportunity for those with a passion for children and animals to contribute to a program that not only brings joy and comfort to the lives of our patients and families, but also directly enhances their treatment and recovery.”


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