New Breed Of Therapists Brings Smiles To Young Faces

HONOLULU (KHNL) - A trip to the hospital isn't at the top of anyone's wish list, but a new breed of therapists makes stays a bit more bearable.

Tripler Army Medical Center sees more than 2,000 patients a day. Among the two-legged caregivers are therapy dogs. They're part of Tripler's "human-animal bonding program."

On Thursday, Maggie, Karma, Deja Vu, and Bonnie visited the pediatric ward.

Bonnie led the pack.

Some patients were shy. Others pet politely. And then there's 19-month-old Damien Wilson.

It turns out Damien is a chip off the old block.

"He takes after myself and he's a big fan of dogs," said Air Force Staff Sergeant Geoffry Wilson and Damien's dad. "We have a couple of cats, but he likes anything that moves around on his level."

Damien's been in and out of hospitals his entire life. These therapy dogs make his visits a bit more tolerable.

"Animals sure take away a lot of the mindset, even at nineteen months, I'm sure they don't remember much, I know it calms him down a little bit," said Geoffry Wilson.

"We come here quite often, he always sees the other dogs, too," added Katrina Wilson, Damien's mom.

In between petting animals, Damien gets ready for his close-up.

"He's very addicted to the camera," said Geoffry Wilson. "Every time he sees picture or anybody with a video camera, he knows they're recording. He'll be the first to walk up to it and start trying to get in it."

Whether smiling for the camera or petting his four-legged therapists, Damien looks forward to another visit as he says good-bye to his new friends.

There are 12 therapy dogs at Tripler Army Medical Center. The human-animal bonding program is in its 10th year.