Study tests power of dogs against cancer



Patient Bobby Harris plays with Swoosh, a miniature Pomeranian, that visits Children's Hospital with its owner and volunteer Michelle Thompson.
John Russell / Vanderbilt University
Cancer patient Bobby Harris plays with Swoosh, a miniature Pomeranian, during a visit to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Bobby, 7, was diagnosed with meduloblastoma, a brain cancer. The hospital is one of five nationwide to join a clinical trial tracking the effects of therapy dogs on the children, their families -- and the animals themselves.

To almost anyone who’s cared for a child with cancer, it seems obvious: Sometimes the best medicine isn’t a drug, it’s a dog — four paws and a furry tail — that can make a kid feel better.

Doctors say they’ve known about the value of therapy pets in hospitals for years. Parents swear by them for soothing a scared or angry child. But such reports have been largely anecdotal — until now.

Backed by a nearly $1 million grant from veterinary health firm Zoetis, with matching funds from the Pfizer Foundation, the American Humane Association is launching what advocates say is the first clinical trial of the effects of what’s known as animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, on young cancer patients and their families.