UT Knoxville researcher studying how dogs help pediatric cancer patients

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A researcher with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville is working to measure the positive benefits of being around a friendly dog, to determine if animals can ease anxiety and reduce the levels of anesthesia medicine needed to calm pediatric cancer patients.

Dr. Zenithson Ng is a veterinary doctor studying this human-animal bond at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. Therapy dogs seem to calm hospital patients, but Ng said there is not much scientific research that proves their effect. "For the medical community and insurance companies and the scientific community, we truly do need that evidence with scientific merit behind it."

Volunteers have partnered with UTK veterinarians for several years to bring the Human Animal Bond in Tennessee partnership to the East Tennessee community. HABIT dogs that have undergone behavioral screening typically visit hospitals as well as libraries, nursing homes and other community centers where they can have a positive impact on people. Ng is using his own HABIT-certified dog named Grace, as well as other HABIT dogs, in a study that collaborates with anesthesiologists at Children's Hospital.

Ng explained the aim of his study, "What we're proposing is that a visit with a dog is actually going to reduce that anxiety and also reduce that nervousness and dosage of anesthesia." Funding this study is the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative.

Parents and children seem to respond positively to the visits by HABIT dogs in the pediatric cancer wing of Children's Hospital.

Mother Tiffany Lale appreciates how the therapy dogs help calm her 8-year-old son, Jaxon, when he needs medical procedures. Medical professionals always make sure children are not in unnecessary pain, and administer medicine. "I believe the habit dogs have helped with that, Especially during his spinal taps. The dose is maybe not as high."
and dosage of anesthesia."

Teenaged patient Marissa White also shared how she enjoys both her pet dog at home and those that visit during her hospital stays. "I like to talk to dogs because they look at you and they know what you're going through and stuff."

Dr. Ng is one year through a three-year study. He does not yet have results to report. His HABIT dog, Grace, is also a cancer survivor.