Therapy dogs give kids comfort and sense of normalcy at school or in hospitals

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INDIANAPOLIS — Naomi isn’t your average employee at Holy Cross Lutheran School. But like any other staff member, Naomi has a uniform, business cards and a job to do.

“We read with them one-on-one and they can pet Naomi if they’d like,” said Kathy Megazzi, Naomi’s handler and a member of the Holy Cross Lutheran Comfort Dog Ministry.

The retired teacher said she’s seen first-hand how Naomi helps the students through their program ‘Be a Reading Kid’ or ‘BARK.’

“It comforts and calms them while they’re reading,” Megazzi said. “I have seen a lot of impact on the students.”

Megazzi said Naomi gives the students confidence to overcome their fears of reading aloud or any reading challenges.

Principal Karen Geiger says Naomi has helped ease students’ anxiety as they return to normalcy.

“There was a lot of impact of COVID on our students and she just brings that calmness, that love, that everything is okay,” Geiger said.

“Petting a dog can help decrease your blood pressure and can actually release hormones that make you feel better,” said Kim Ziegler, a certified child life specialist at Riley Children’s Hospital. “So many kids are scared to be in the hospital. It gives a peace of normalcy back to them while they’re in the hospital.”

Ziegler oversees the hospital’s pet therapy program. There are 12 dogs on staff to provide emotional support for patients, their families and staff.

“They come in and visit with the kids in the in-patient units,” Ziegler said. “We take them into the surgery waiting area.”

Therapy dogs are proven to help children deal with painful treatments, elevate mood, reduce anxiety and increase a child’s sense of well-being. 

“The dogs are such a great part of our team as a whole,” Ziegler said.

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