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Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Children's Hospital therapy dogs



PITTSBURGH - No one likes being in the hospital, especially children.

That’s where Lori Barrante and her Golden Retriever "Dog-tor" Vito step in.

For the past year-and-a-half, they have been coming to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to visit sick kids and help them forget, even for a few minutes, that they are in the hospital. 

Sometimes the therapy dogs can do what the doctors cannot. 

Nia Cohen, 4, was badly injured, along with her parents, in a hit-and-run accident. 

“When the dogs are here, she wants to know their name, their story, how old they are,” said her parents.

On this day, Nia won't do her physical therapy but somehow, Vito gets her to take two loops around the 6th floor as she chats away.

She talks not about how her tummy hurts but about dollies, growing up to be a policeman and her cat named Georgie.

“She sees nurses and doctors and people all day,” said Nia’s mother. “It’s such a departure from what is going on here.  It's a little bit of the outside world come in.”

Vito is one of 52 therapy dogs at Children's Hospital, and they are all put through a rigorous certification process -- basically anything a 2-year-old could throw at them.  They get their ears and tails pulled and hear loud noises.  And if they flinch, they're out

“Many have just had operations, or they are medically sick and they hurt, and generally it can be tough for them,” said Dr. Tim Ward. ”They may not be in the best of moods, but when the dogs come in the room, it always changes.  Who can't help but like a dog?”

Contact with approved dogs can range from simply watching a dog to petting, cuddling or even playing fetch and walking the dog in the hallway.