Adorable Labrador helps toddlers at Faro Hospital

Hospitals are places even many adults try to avoid – much less toddlers with development problems who have to go there on a weekly basis.

To try and make their experiences as enjoyable as possible, Faro Hospital has launched a “pioneering” pilot-project using an adorable black Labrador as a form of therapy.

“As soon as Sueca comes into the hospital, people get in a better mood. How can you be angry near a girl like this,” Carla Mendonça, the head of Faro Hospital’s neuropaediatrics and development centre, asks Barlavento newspaper.

For the next six months, the cuddly canine will be a key part of weekly therapy sessions for three two-year-olds.

“Children with chronic illnesses have to come here weekly for therapy, which is tiring. When we ask them to do certain exercises, they simply do not want to,” Kátia Ferreira, a physiatrist at the centre, explains.

“But Sueca creates stimulus and motivation. She is a huge facilitator,” she smiles.

Children often have trouble focusing, but with Sueca around “the chance of these children ‘going along’ with the exercises is much higher”.

An uplifting story involves Sara, a young child who was afraid to leave her wheelchair.

“But near Sueca, she wanted to go over and pet her and play. And she was able to overcome that barrier,” said Daiana Ferreira, a psychologist and specialist in animal-assisted therapy (AAT).

“Besides this, Sara did not like to be touched, but with Sueca there was tactile stimulation that was very important for her. I really want to take advantage of this with other children.

“There’s another child who has balance issues, but with Sueca I believe that in six months the child will be able to crawl, walk and develop a nearly normal motor behaviour,” she added.

The project is a joint effort involving Faro Hospital and KOKUA, a Tavira-based association offering animal-assisted therapies.

After a series of initial tests, the two entities agreed to move forward with a six-month pilot-project.

If it is the success therapists expect it to be, hopes are that animal-assisted therapies can be extended to other patients in the Algarve.

Photo: The team at Faro hospital, from left: Daiana Ferreira, Carla Mendonça, Carla Joaquim, Conceição Silva, Kátia Ferreira and Sueca
Photo by: Sara Alves/Open Media Group