Chile ‘therapy’ dogs offer tummy rubs to soothe patients, medics

Pepe, a Chilean “therapist” with long blond fur, and Chimu, his resolute black and white dog companion, stroll through the corridors of a children’s hospital in the capital Santiago, licking their hands and offering their ears and bellies to stroke.

The partners are part of a team of sociable dogs helping to relieve stress at Exequiel Gonzalez Cortes Hospital in San Miguel, an urban facility that has been overwhelmed by coronavirus cases and other emergency surgeries for months.

“When you enter (the hospital) with dogs, they all greet you and their expressions change,” said Nicole Faust, dog trainer at Fundacion Tregua, a non-governmental group that works in canine therapy.

Tregua Foundation therapy dogs, Pepe and Chimu, take part in a recreational activity to help the medical staff on the front lines of Dr. Exequiel comforting Gonzalez Cortes in Santiago, Chile. (REUTERS / Pablo Sanhueza)

Chile was hit particularly hard at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when a rising number of cases brought hospitals to collapse. But cases have plummeted in recent weeks thanks to a rapid vaccination campaign, giving health workers in the South American nation much-needed respite.

Teresa Nilo, a hospital technician suffering from COVID, said the dogs helped change their attitudes.

“Having the dogs by our side gives us security,” she says. “You feel in a more inviting place than in a hospital between four walls.”

Francisca Salazar, doctor at Dr. Exequiel Gonzalez Cortes Hospital, resting her head on Pepe, a therapy dog ​​from the Tregua Foundation. (REUTERS / Pablo Sanhueza)

According to the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems.

Children in the hospital especially love the dogs, said their parents and staff.

Rodrigo Alvarez, an auto mechanic whose son recently had eye surgery in the hospital, said his son benefited from therapy.

“For very sick children, this helps them escape the stress of the hospital and what they are living in,” he said.

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