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At the Best Friends Bash, Kids and Dogs Bond Over Medical Conditions

Young patients who have undergone craniofacial surgery socialized with dogs who have had similar procedures. The annual event provides therapy for dogs and humans alike.

Chris Hall  |  Jul 23rd 2015


Yesterday, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (aka CHOP) and PennVet, the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine, held a very special event that provided therapy to canine and human patients alike. At the third annual “Best Friends Bash,” young patients who had undergone craniofacial surgery had a chance to meet and socialize with dogs who had gotten very similar surgeries.

“The children’s true selves come out at these parties,” Maria Soltero-Rivera, an assistant professor of dentistry at the university said. “Then you throw into the mix a bunch of puppies that just want to be pet and play around. Dog therapy has been proven to work. There’s no question it helps heal … there are just so many advantages that can be derived from the interaction.”

This is definitely a different use of therapy dogs from the usual: The dogs themselves have been through experiences very similar to the young human patients. Most have had multiple surgeries for congenital conditions such as cleft palates, deformed skulls, or missing limbs. The dogs who attended include several who had surgery to remove craniofacial tumors, a Rottweiler with a skull deformity who’s also had four operations on his legs, and one dog named Cyrus who was born without front legs.

In the video below, one of the human patients, Dan, talks about how he was born with Saethre-Chotzen Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes asymmetric features because of bone structures that fuse during fetal growth. In his late teens, Dan has undergone nine surgeries to correct the condition.

“Craniofacial problems are complex medical conditions that can also negatively impact children’s feelings about themselves,” said Scott P. Bartlett, MD, chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at CHOP. “Despite this, our patients show great resilience and strength. They strive to return normalcy to their lives — often while coping with major surgeries and other therapies throughout their childhood and adolescence. Events like this are a great opportunity for these children to see how dogs affected by similar problems have adapted.”

The therapy that happens at the Best Friends Bash is an imporotat part of recovery according to Dr. Alexander Reiter, an associate professor of dentistry and oral surgery at Penn Vet. “Receiving unconditional love and attention is an essential part of the healing process,” he said. “The dogs that participate in this meaningful event provide unspoken comfort, creating an immediate bond that allows the children to realize they are not alone.”

Of course, the dogs themselves have undergone a great deal of trauma and even isolation, so the opportunity to play and bond is mutual. Check out the video below for more history of the Bash and the people who participate in it.

Based on the idea that the human-animal connection provides a powerful healing bond, Penn Vet and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have partnered on a heartwarming annual event, the Best Friends Bash. A unique gathering, the Best Friends Bash enhances the traditional therapy pet relationship by introducing craniofacial patients from CHOP to therapy dogs from Penn Vet who have undergone similar procedures.

We invite you to watch a special video about this very impactful partnership.

Via University of Pennsylvania

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