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What a Cool Program…

November 5th, 2010 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

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Bruiser has been nominated to take part in a program here in Colorado called YAPS. YAPS stands for Youth and Pet Survivors and it’s essentially a pen-pal program that pairs kids with cancer and blood diseases with dogs with similar afflictions. I think it is such a cool program that I am sharing this article:

A Beautiful Bond by Andra Coberly

Anne Gillespie has tons of stories about the power of the human-animal bond and the program she calls YAPS. The most gripping story, arguably, involves a teenager, a dog named Boone and a letter. Or better yet, a series of letters, which fortified their relationship into something beautifully unbreakable.

Gillespie started the YAPS program at The Children’s Hospital after the organization disallowed dogs from visiting patients with cancer and blood diseases. “I knew there had to be a way around that,” she said. Gillespie has always believed in the healing power of animals and she thought a pen-pal program, which matches the children with dogs who are dealing with the same afflictions, would offer the same benefits as a visitation program. It’s a way for the patients to communicate their feelings to a similar, nonjudgmental friend; for pet owners, it’s catharsis and gives their ailing dogs a greater purpose.

“The healthy benefits have gone way beyond what we expected,” she said. “It’s really very magical. I think that’s the right word for it. It gives these kids a chance to tell their story to a loving dog who has been through the same journey. …There is real love there.”

Just a couple years ago, Gillespie paired a big dog named Boone with a young man who had bone cancer. The two developed a true bond over their common challenges and struggles; both had had a limb removed. They not only wrote back and forth but he also would visit Boone and his family.

After the young man died, his parents found a letter that their son was writing to the dog.
“In the letter, he was telling Boone that he was prepared to die, that he had come to terms with it, that he was at peace with it,” Gillespie said. “These were things he had not articulated to his parents. It really changed how his parents dealt with his death and it really showed how special the dog had become in his life.”

Boone sat front row at the funeral.

Loss and heartbreak, love and devotion, healing and surrender are a part of the story of YAPS. But it’s also a lot about diversion, about fun and even about therapy.
“It’s really taken on a life of its own. We had no idea,” she said.

As a pediatric oncology nurse at the Children’s Hospital, Gillespie’s original goal was to bring the benefits of human-animal interaction to the families in the oncology department. Now, she wants the program to spread globally and she wants children’s hospitals everywhere to participate. It has inspired something so profound and emotional that she can’t help but hope that all children with cancer and pet-owners of dogs with cancer can enjoy the benefits, she said.

“For the patients, it’s a chance to express your feelings and know you are heard but not judged,” she said. “And it’s also about the kids getting to be a caregiver. There’s a lot of laughter and fun and distraction. And on the other end, it really helps the dog-owners work through some sadness. It transcends any circumstance.”

Yellowscene Magazine, September 2010

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