Vanderbilt nursing professor launches study on therapy dogs and children battling cancer

Posted: 9:26 AM, May 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-13 10:26:12-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Seeing therapy dogs in hospitals is nothing new, but their benefits to patients are largely anecdotal. Now, a Vanderbilt nurse has launched a study to prove dogs do help.

Mary Jo Gilmer says for some of her patients, snuggling with a dog is everything.

"I asked [my patient] what might help in any way with this transition and [her] response was, 'I really miss my dog. I'd love to have my dog with me," she said.

Gilmer studies the impact canines can have on patients battling disease.

She'll even admit to sneaking a puppy into a hospital room.

"I put the puppy under my coat as I entered the hospital, since they were an allowed, and took it up to her floor and I thought, 'If I get fired because I broke the rules so be it," she said.

Now, she wants data to back up what she already knows - dogs help - even heal.

"We want to have data to show that dogs help, that dogs decrease stress and anxiety and make a very, very difficult journey easier for children and families," she said.

She's started a study at Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt focusing on children diagnosed with advanced cancer.

Dogs like Misha, a therapy dog with Pet Partners, visit patients and stress levels are measured - even in the dogs.

She says fears of infection are unfounded. All the therapy dogs have been immunized and bathed the day of their visit.

She says they've partnered with other hospitals around the country to gather data in hopes Misha and her pals will be welcome in the wards.

"Anything we can do to help them," she said.

This is just the beginning of the study, which will run through 2020.