Thu, 20 Jun 2019

Paws for People on Thursday spread some festive cheer in the paediatric oncology ward at the Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion.

The organisation's volunteer handler and dog teams visit the ward every second Thursday, but this week's visit, their last for the year, was extra special.

"We brought the children some chocolates. This is a very difficult time of year for children to be in hospital, and for families to be here, so we hope to bring just a little bit of extra joy and happiness to them," said volunteer Lindi van Jaarsveld.

Shannon Brand, mother to Katelyn, a 4-year-old cancer patient at the hospital, told News24 that her daughter waited all day for the dogs to come.

"It's one of her favourite things, if we are in hospital.

"It cheers her up a lot. It gives her something to look forward to instead of sitting in hospital all day," Brand said.

Health benefits

Katelyn was diagnosed with grade 4 embryonal central nervous system neuroblastoma (a rare form of brain cancer) in November 2017.

She says her daughter loves all animals.

"We can't take her to the zoo without tears because she's not allowed to touch the lions," she laughed.

Paws for People was founded in 1997 and offers animal-assisted therapy and activity programmes in Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and in Cape Town through their sister unit, Paw Pals.

Van Jaarsveld, who began volunteering in 2012, says the visits have real health benefits for children with cancer and other serious illnesses.

"It lowers their blood pressure, it decreases the cortisol in their bodies, it provides a positive distraction for them, improves their mood and that in turn reduces their pain perception," she said.

The visits also benefit family members of the sick children by reducing their stress levels.

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