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  • Writer's pictureSERHA

Animal Assisted Recovery Care Project Getting Positive Reviews

Dr. Teddy Barks is a golden retriever that is part of the Animal Assisted Recovery Care

(AARC) Pilot Project at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, which was launched at the

Hospital in March 2023. The animal is owned by the BHC and cared for and maintained

by the Hope Zoo. All other animals including birds, rabbits and kittens are from the

Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), the Hope Zoo, and

Montego Bay Animal Haven.

The AARC pilot project is proving to be beneficial to the participants and receiving

positive feedback from all stakeholders. The multidisciplinary collaborative effort was

launched as a part of the hospital’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Under the project there

are monthly interactions and educational sessions with pre-selected patients and the

animals. Each session is held with an average of eight patients. Parents and staff also

benefit from additional visits and interactions with the animals.

Dr. Marsha James, Programme Coordinator - Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Consultant,

said that she is pleased with the performance of the project so far and she hopes the

programme will continue. The 18-month pilot project is now at the six-month mark and is

due for evaluation.

She notes that the children are initially cautious, “but with the help of our stakeholders,

they are educated about the animals and with time they become much more interactive.”

She says the parents have been very supportive as they also interact with the animals.

A survey revealed that the therapy dog, Dr. Teddy Barks, is the overwhelming favourite,

followed by the snake. Dr. James explains that based on the studies, the target group is

children who can follow instructions.“We start at about age four and we go to 12. We do

have some younger children, who participate along with their parents, and we’ll support

the patients for that interaction. They do more touch and less interaction than the older

patients,” she explains.

The older patients can hold the animals and give them treats. “They are allowed to take

the dog for walks and to stroke and feed the kittens. They also like to interact with the

snake which they sometimes put around their necks to take pictures,” Dr. James informs.

She explains that the objective of animal therapy is to foster a human-animal bond, to

help to relieve anxiety, to improve cardiovascular outcomes and to improve mental

health. She also points out that when children are admitted, especially for extended

periods, some of them are traumatised from the hospitalisation.

“They are sometimes isolated from their families and friends and even their own pets at

home, so this session allows them to interact, to socialize, to create that bond and to get

that feel-good experience from interacting with the animals”, the programme coordinator


She highlighted two patients, one from the ENT ward and another from the Intensive

Care Unit (ICU), who have thrived under the programme. “Ihe ICU patient has

interacted with Dr. Teddy Barks at each session, and we have seen that bond


The programme coordinator explains that animal assisted recovery is therapy that is

recommended for adults and children. However, most programmes target children who

are generally more receptive. Studies have also shown that animal therapy is very helpful

to patients with mental health disorders.

The Bustamante Hospital was chosen for several reasons, including the fact that it had the

space to launch the pilot; and it presented an opportunity to determine what the reception

from the children would be. The long-term goal is to launch the programme in other

health care facilities to benefit both paediatric and adult patients.

There are strict inclusion criteria that must be met for patient participation. There must be

consent from parents as well as assent from patients. The patient must be willing to

interact with the animals because reluctance from the children can cause anxiety to the

animals. “You have to protect the animals as well as the patients,” Dr. James informs.

“We still have to maintain COVID-19 protocols, and of course these are

patients, so we don’t want cross infections.

“We divide them into groups of two and we transition them from one station to the other.

We usually have about three or four stations and we’ll have no more than two children at

a station at a time and there is sanitisation between stations,” Dr. James says. The

entire session lasts about an hour and an additional half hour is given to accommodate

staff members. Extra care is taken however, not to exhaust the animals as the health of

the animals is also important.

The programme was a collaborative effort, conceptualised by Minister of Health and

Wellness Dr. Hon. Christopher Tufton in collaboration with the Veterinary Services

Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining, Hope Zoo, the JSPCA and

Montego Bay Animal Haven.

Speaking at the project launch in March, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, Minister of

Health and Wellness said that animal-assisted interventions are globally recognized as

having varied benefits for both patients and providers while adopting a One Health

Approach to healthcare delivery.The pilot is funded by the National Health Fund and is

being handled under the South East Regional Health Authority’s Projects Portfolio.

The project is the first of its kind in Jamaica and has a research component which will

allow the facility to gather data on the impact of the intervention on the health care

system. Based on the findings, the project will either be expanded into other health

facilities or adjustments made accordingly.

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