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Program Matches Young Cancer Patients, Pets Who've Survived Medical Ordeals

DENVER (CBS4) - The Colorado Kennel Club presented a check Sunday during their annual dog show to a program based out of Children's Hospital Colorado which matches kids with cancer to dogs and cats who have survived cancer or other serious medical conditions. The program was founded by Anne Gillespie, who has worked for the last 30 years as a registered nurse at the hospital in Aurora. She also considers herself a dog person.

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"They're just amazing companions and friends," she said. "They're always ready for a hug, they're ready to go for a walk, they're ready to listen and not talk back."

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When Gillespie saw kids struggling through cancer treatments, she wanted to find a way to connect dogs with these immunocompromised kids.

"And thought, what if dogs and cats could write letters to children going through this treatment?"

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The program called Youth and Pet Survivors (YAPS) has been going on for 17 years now, matching around 150 kids with pen pals, each of whom has survived cancer or other serious medical conditions.

"Some end after just a few letters back and forth and some continue for years."

One little girl who has been struggling with a brain tumor since she was six years old became a voracious writer with her pen pal.

"They had not only fallen in love with each other through the letters and then when they met in person, it was all over and this little girl said, 'This is my best doggie friend forever.'"

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The two got together on a regular basis and even though the dog has since passed away, she has formed a lasting bond with the owner's family.

"This is why I'm here, and no matter what gets in the way I'm not going to give up spreading this program."

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If you would like to learn more about YAPS or make a donation, visit

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