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Mount Sinai's 'Paws And Play' Program Successfully Matches Young Patients And 4-Legged Friends With A Purpose

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Dogs are humanizing health care at Mount Sinai Hospital. Through the "Paws and Play" program, they help young patients cope with needles and pain.

And over the past few months, their companionship has proven more crucial than ever, CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reported Wednesday.

High fives and pure happiness was caught on camera. Whenever 11-year-old Jason Amaya meets up with "Professor," nothing else matters.

"He always makes me think positive and not negative," Jason said.


You see, the two don't normally meet in Central Park, but inside Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's Hospital, where Jason comes for weekly blood draws. He lives with ITP, and needs his blood platelet count monitored.

"Every time we come to the hospital, the first thing he looks for is the dog," mother Michelle Lara said.

Mount Sinai Paws and Play Program
(Photo: Kravis Children's Hospital)

That's because Professor, a 4-year-old Goldendoodle, handled by child life specialist Ali Spikestein, lays by his side.

"He always makes me calm down and makes me happy," Jason said.

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Professor is one of three canines on staff at Mount Sinai.

"It's really striking to see how very calm, how very cooperative, and how very empowered a child can be with the live being of the animal," said Diane Rode, the director of Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy at Kravis Children's Hospital.

Rode gave an example that CBS2 had to share.

"We had a patient, a 2-year-old, who stopped walking when he was diagnosed with cancer," Rode said.

But when Professor walked in to his room, "The child immediately stood up, got out of bed, took the leash, and walked down the hall," Rode said.

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Rode said visits went virtual when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

"We were actually very surprised that worked," Rode said.

The hospital used robots to transport Professor's lovable face to patients in isolation, kids that couldn't even see their siblings.

"The facility dogs brought a great measure of comfort and contact," Rode said.

Just ask Jason. He received a virtual visit from Professor and loved it.

"I can see my best buddy on the screen and he can still put a smile on my face," he said.

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During the height of the pandemic, Professor and his buddies worked harder than ever, not just tending to children, but to health care workers on the frontlines as well.

Furry friends never cease to amaze.

Professor and his pals work full time and visit between 10 and 20 patients each day. During the height of the pandemic in our area those dogs got extra attention -- more outdoor playtime -- to ensure they stayed happy and healthy, too.

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