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The Power of Pet Therapy for Declan

150 Years Stronger Patient Story Declan and Wilma

Declan loves every dog he sees — big dogs and little dogs, from Great Danes to Dachshunds. He doesn’t have one at home (at least not yet), but at Children’s National Hospital, a canine friend is often at his side.

Our pet therapy program has been a big part of helping Declan cope with the hardships of cancer. “In those situations where I feel really bad, like after having chemo, therapy dogs make me feel good and happy and calmer, too,” Declan says.


Even just running his fingers through a therapy dog’s coat (like super-furry Wilma, a 125-pound Leonberger) helps Declan pass the time during stressful appointments or long waits. His favorites at Children’s National include Elkins, a huggable yellow Lab; Kahlúa, a Golden Retriever who did tricks for treats and Mickey, a very relaxed Cocker spaniel mix.


“During Declan’s inpatient stays, it was often obvious that time with our volunteer therapy dogs boosted his mood and helped get him through stressful times,” says Dr. Jeffrey Dome, chief of our oncology division.


Declan rang the Victory Bell at Children’s National on the day he finished his cancer treatments with Wilma at his side, wagging her fluffy tail in applause. His advice for other kids in the hospital? “Ask for a visit from a therapy dog,” Declan says. “They always make you feel happier.”


This story was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.