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Dogs are Key to Child’s Recovery

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Twelve-year old Ally Gillen plans to be an occupational therapist when she grows up so she can help children just like her. For the first 10 years of her life, Ally was an active child who loved sports. Then almost overnight, her body shut down. Her muscles and organs stopped working.

Ally hugging Angel.

Diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an extremely rare autoimmune connective tissue disease that effects one in one million children, Ally spent seven weeks at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. The key to her recovery were the dogs in the pet therapy program.

“She was so ill that she couldn’t lift her head off the pillow,” says Ally’s mom Heather Gillen. “When the occupational therapists would come into her room to get her to move, she would cry because it hurt so much. I wanted to yell ‘don’t touch my daughter.’”

Then one day, an occupational therapist brought in a therapy dog. “I missed my dog so much,” says Ally. (Ally was in the hospital from Halloween through Thanksgiving, her birthday, and Christmas.) “The dogs in the program really made me happy. The occupational therapist (OT) would place a dog on my shoulder so I could pet him. Then she would move the dog to my other shoulder or other part of my body. I would reach down and pet the dog.”

“I didn’t really think about petting the dog,” says Ally. “I was just so happy to have a dog nearby that I wanted to pet him.”

Dog Therapy
The dogs in the program had such a calming effect on Ally that she started to get better. Some of the therapists would bring in a therapy dog and a few sets of clothing. “By dressing the dogs, she used her motor skills,” says Heather.

Tic Tac Toe
A small dog with a tic tac toe set came in. The Os and Xs had to be Velcroed on the felt board the dog wore. Ally would play the game with her OT. Then a larger dog came in with a bigger tic tac toe set. Ally had to get on the floor for this game. “It got her moving,” says Heather.

“And one time for Christmas, the OT let me paint one of the bigger dog’s toenails,” adds Ally. “I would dress up the dogs in different outfits and then take them for walks around the hospital.”

After 49 days, Ally was wheelchair bound. She had to go back to Children’s on an outpatient basis. She continued to work with the dogs. “They would run ahead and I would follow them through tunnels,” says Ally.

Her mom adds, “She really liked being around the dogs, which meant getting her to go to the hospital was easy.”

Training Angel
On her return home, Ally wanted to train her dog, Angel, to be a therapy dog. Ally, Heather, and their seven-year old dog Angel, enrolled in the Delta Therapy Dog Certification program. Today, Heather is at Children’s every Tuesday with Angel. Angel even has her own trading card, which is part of a program at Children’s where patients can get cards with photos and stats about a particular therapy dog.

Angel's therapy dog card

“Angel likes to play with people and loves the attention she gets at Children’s,” says Ally. “And Angel and I go to agility classes.”

“Dogs are a big part of my life and always will be. Now that all of this has happened, I’m going to get a degree in OT when I’m older. And I will train a few dogs to be therapy dogs.”

To watch a video of Ally, her parents, Angel, and the other therapy dogs, click here. If you watch, bring tissues!

37 comments to Dogs are Key to Child’s Recovery

  • sue mcguey

    Inspiring & wonderful story Michele….thank you for posting!~

  • Recovery for a child with their pet dog is much easier and faster than laying around and filling sad. A dog can always be your friend no matter what. They have a very big heart and forgive you faster than a person can. My dogs are always around and watching every move you make. They can tell when your happy or sad. My dogs also think about how to get food, water and to go outside. They watch your moves and know what’s next and a person who knows his dogs knows whats on it’s mind. Anyone who has not taken part in having a dog as their best friend has missed something great! A dog is TRUELY MAN’S BEST FRIEND!!! “Indian Boy”

  • What dogs do for us as human beings is so incredibly overwhelming. TY for spreading the word!

  • LittleStar

    WONDERFUL !!!!!…now pass me your box of tissues…I used all mine…

  • Great inspirational story on the healing power of having a pet. Sharing!

  • Margie Margent

    I agree with Little Star. It is a wonderful story. And I cried too.

  • Ingrid Harrison

    They were happy tears. I love happy endings, and Ally is a great kid–so mature.

  • Tomisina Weber

    I guess Ally had to grow up fast. Thanks for this uplifting story Michele.

  • Susan Orman

    Michele, I love Pet News and Views. Your stories about people really capture their hearts. And this is so heartwarming.

  • Ruth Freedman

    Ally is wise beyond her years.

  • Paula Marsden

    There is a power of dogs. Dogs can really lift us up–even when we are sad. It is proven time and time again. I wish we would treat all animals better than we do. They deserve our love–as proved by the dogs in this story.

  • AlisonKleger

    I’m an Ally too! What a great kid–so wise and smart–way beyond her years. I think she will accomplish her goal. We can learn so much from her lessons. Instead of giving up, she tried and the outcome is so positive. Next time I’m sad, I will think of Ally and feel good.

  • Georgia Thomas

    Yay for Ally. Yay for the therapy dogs. I watched the video and cried. It really is moving. I can’t imagine what her parents went through. They must be proud of her.

  • RobertaJohnson

    I am the mom of a special needs child. I believe we parents are quite strong. It’s hard to watch our children suffer, be hurt, or struggle. This is a great story of a girl who overcame and looked like she wouldn’t give up. Thankfully, her OTs were smart and did the right thing. I wish every hospital had a dog therapy program.

  • Willow Jordan

    I had to stay in the hospital for a week, and thankfully volunteers came in with their therapy dogs. To sit all day in a hospital room is beyond lonely. Friends and family come for a little while. So when it’s quiet and then the dogs come and liven things up a lot. They give so much. The OTs, the volunteers, and the dogs all deserve recognition. I wish they would be paid for their services.

  • Peter Matheson

    I’m a dad of a special needs child, and we just got a therapy dog for our son. Our son is autistic, and the dog stays by his side all day and night. It is so special watching them together. And when our son is outside with our dog, people come up to him and he talks to them about the dog. Our dog, named
    Samuel, is a life saver for us.

  • Debra Kaiser

    Thanks Michele, for another heartwarming story. You should book these in a book. When I am about to complain next time, I will think of Ally, and buck up.

  • Catelyn Munson

    It must have been so scary for Ally’s parents not to know what was wrong, and then to discover an illness that only affected 1 in a million. They were brave too.

  • Marsha Reisman

    It’s very cool that they trained their dog to become a therapy dog.

  • Robert Fox

    I am going to check out the Delta therapy dog certification program. Therapy dogs cost so much money. It is nice to know that we can get our dogs certified. I see they accept all breeds and mutts too.

  • Cara Hudson

    Thanks Michele! Another great story!LOL

  • Ella Greely

    Great story Michele. Thanks. I am sharing this with my friends.

  • Martha Smith

    I work as a nurse at a major hospital, and we have a girl who comes in once a week with her therapy dog. It really brightens up the place, and the patients love her and her dog. Thanks for this story.

  • Thanks Michele for sharing this amazing story about Ally and Angel, Dogs are awesome animals and are really in tuned with our feelings and gives so much love to us, I hope that Ally’s dreams come true and bless her heart for doing what she and Angel are doing to help other children.

  • Wow, what a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing ;)

  • Henriette

    I only have two words for this! AWESOME & FANTASTIC!
    Very inspiring video, Thanks Michele.

  • Julie van Niekerk

    Yet again – dogs are man’s best friend. Such a pity that some humans are not dog’s best friend. Thanks for this wonderful story!

  • Kim Cato

    Amazing post. It was very moving. Thank you Michele

  • What a wonderful story! Looking forward to hearing about Ally’s work in the future.

  • Debora Jackson

    Ally is totally selfless. It is so wonderful to see a child act so grown up when it comes to the feelings of others. I’m sure she will make a great OT someday. Her parents seem special too. I watched the video.

  • Carol Smith

    Ally is special. Thanks for this story. I, too, have shed a few tears.

  • Lara Kimmel

    Thanks Michele for this beautiful story. I have teary eyes now.

  • Elsie Au

    Thanks again for such a wonderful story.

  • Thank you for sharing Ally’s story. I am going to share on The Tiniest Tiger.

  • Thanks Gracey! We love The Tiniest Tiger.

  • Ann Triplett

    Great things (therapy dogs) come in all kinds of sizes, but the love given by a dog is inconditional and can warm up any ones heart. Now Ally and her mom are paying forward what was given to them. LOVE!!!!

  • penelopa

    Thank you! It is a wonderful story and all of us need some…