WASHINGTON — Tails are wagging on Capitol Hill.
The American Humane Association brought some four-legged staff members to the Cannon House Office Building to alert members of Congress to a clinical trial to test the effects of therapy dogs on children with cancer.
"There are so many tantalizing stories about the power of animals to comfort and provide us healing, but we are never going to be able to bring this into wider use until we bring quantifiable, rigorous data," says Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association.
The group's ultimate goal is for therapy dogs to become a standard part of care in hospitals.
"At the end of the day, it's about bringing a path to healing for kids who are fighting the fight of their lives," Ganzert says.
The Canines and Childhood Cancer Study will collect data over the next year from five hospitals across the country. Children with cancer and their parents will be visited by a therapy dog for 20 minutes once a week. The visits will be recorded on video, and the patients will have their heart rate and blood pressure monitored for stress to see if stress goes down.
Animal handlers will collect a dog's saliva to monitor the impact on its stress levels, too.
Indications that animals reduce sick children's stress "has been anecdotal until this point," says John Payne, American Humane Association board chairman. "We are going to be able to put some data behind it and get people really enthused about the power of pets and the power of animals."
Payne says he hopes the study shows that hospitals need more animal therapy programs, dogs and handlers.
"We need funding," he says. "We all have to get behind this because it takes a village to make this happen."
Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, says, "It's just much easier to stand on six legs than it is to stand on two."