Pet Therapy for Scoliosis Surgical Patients – Can you help?


Get to know Rachel

Hello everyone, it is great to have an opportunity to talk to you about my career and research. I am a Children’s Nurse for the past 30 years working across Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) at Crumlin and Tallaght Hospitals. I have been a staff nurse, clinical educator, and manager before moving full time to University College Dublin as a Lecturer in Children’s Nursing in 2016.

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What has motivated this phd?

It was in the Beacon Hospital that my first real interest in assistance dogs evolved. A young person had an assistance dog and their family enquired if the dog could accompany them on their hospital journey. I was the Paediatric Service Manager at the time, so I led out on exploring this request with my team. It was fantastic to see the dog accompany his owner to the operating theatre door and be reunited after the operation in the recovery room. We all said we would love to see this much more often. A few years later I found myself enrolled on a Doctoral research programme in UCD to explore Animal-Assisted Interventions in a Children’s Hospital.

Animal-Assisted Interventions more commonly known as Pet Therapy

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Any of you who are pet owners will know the joy and love that they can bring to any family. While some people may fear or be allergic to four-footed friends, the majority will love and adore animals.

My PhD research aims to explore the value of including animals, such as a therapy dog, in a child’s recovery journey in hospital. I reviewed 31 academic papers on animal-assisted interventions and none of those explored the area of children and young people with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. Therefore, my research will aim to address this gap by inviting young people like you to be involved.

The benefits of Animal Therapy

There are many benefits to having a therapy dog by your side. You might already notice that spending time with your pet helps you to be calm and relaxed. The physical effects of stroking or being in the company of an animal for just a few minutes can reduce your heart rate, breathing and improve your mood. Scientific papers have already shown good results of animal assisted interventions for children recovering from some conditions such as heart transplant, but not specifically young people following spinal fusion for AIS.

My PhD research team in UCD also includes a real Vet so that we can be mindful of the dog’s welfare as well as the humans for any intervention planned. For example, the cleaning products used to clean the hospital floors may be harmful to dogs, so we need to think about that too.

The research workshop

The research workshop will involve a Design Thinking process from The Stanford D School in America. If you want to learn more why not sign-up for the research workshop? You can help us design an animal assisted intervention for people like you, have some fun AND receive a certificate in Design Thinking!