Yarie, Norton Children's Hospital therapy dog

Yarie, a recent therapy dog at Norton Children's Hospital. (Courtesy of Norton Healthcare.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Norton Children’s Hospital is getting another therapy dog.

Thanks to a $50,000 gift from PetSmart Charities, Norton Healthcare will add a fourth four-legged therapist to help young patients

Norton said research has shown that full-time facility therapy dogs provide emotional comfort to patients and help their physical recovery by encouraging them to get out of bed and walk or play.

“Facility therapy dogs not only offer comfort but provide children with an outlet to verbalize their fears,” said Heather Stohr, the hospital’s manager of child life therapy.

She also said that the hospital’s current K-9 crew is not nearly big enough.

“We currently have around 400 requests for therapy dog visits every month, yet our current three dogs can only see around 100 children a month,” Stohr said.

Norton said the dogs also are helping kids overcome their fear of dogs, and they’re also making workdays a little easier for hospital staff.

“The caregivers unfortunately have to deal with a lot of situations that are sad and even scary,” Stohr said. “A few minutes with a dog can help relieve stress or anxiety.”

Kelly Balthazor, regional relationship manager at PetSmart Charities, said, “Children and pets often share a special bond, and we’re happy to lend our support to this program that promotes the healing power of pets and provides a healthy diversion from the usual hospital routine.”

Norton Children's Hospital is the area's only full-service, free-standing pediatric hospital. It has 300 beds, is Louisville's only Level I Pediatric Trauma Center and serves as the primary teaching facility of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. It cares for children "without regard to their families' ability to pay," Norton said.

Norton said the therapy dog program was established through a generous gift from the Independent Pilots Association Foundation and has since received support from other organizations, businesses and schools.

In total, Norton Healthcare’s Heel, Dog, Heal team consists of eight therapy dogs.

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