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Meet Livia, the hospital dog

Published onsdag 14 januari 2015 kl 15.27
"It's the best thing ever"
(7:06 min)
Hospital dog Livia and dog handler Helena Odenrick on their way to meet patients at Uppsala University Hospital. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
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Hospital dog Livia and dog handler Helena Odenrick on their way to meet patients at Uppsala University Hospital. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
Hospital dog Livia meets 12-year-old Isak. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
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Livia meets 12-year-old Isak. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
Hospital dog Livia and 12-year-old Isak play. Photo: Ulla Engberg
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Livia is quick to pick up the rings and place them on the cone. Photo: Ulla Engberg
Hospital dog Livia and 12-year-old Isak. Time for a cuddle. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
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Time for a cuddle. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
14-year-old Jasmine meets the hospital dog Livia. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio
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14-year-old Jasmine gets to meet Livia. Photo: Ulla Engberg/Sveriges Radio

There are police dogs, sniffer dogs, hunting dogs, rescue dogs, guide dogs, shepherd's dogs. But in Uppsala, there is also a "hospital dog". A study will try to measure the effects a dog can have on patients.

The five-year-old labradoodle Livia, at Uppsala university hospital, is a cross between a labrador and a poodle. Because of the breed's lack of underfur, most of those normally allergic to dogs, are fine to be around Livia.

Her owner is chief paediatrician Ann Edner, who began by bringing Livia to work a few years ago. It started with an instinct ("this could be a good idea") but gradually, Livia became an important part of the work at the children's ward. And she likes her job, just as the children who meet her like her.

12-year old Isak is currently spending five days a week at the hospital, where he gets his physio in the morning and the afternoon, and where he goes to school. When he was asked if he wanted to meet the hospital dog, he jumped at the chance. Within minutes, he is instructing Livia to roll on the floor, to wave at him, to give him high-five, to catch the small plastic rings and to place them on a cone.

For Isak, this is a welcome break to the hospital routine. 

"It's fun, it's something new. It would be good if there were more dogs, so that all children who are ill could meet one. And it is very cosy..."

So, you'd choose this option more often if it was available?

"Yes, it is be best thing ever," he says.

Doctor Ann Edner says Livia contributes to a good atmosphere, but she can also contribute to a child's recovery. She tells the story of a three-year-old patient at the ward, she had had an operation, but didn't want to get out of bed afterwards.

"The surgeon called us and asked, can't Livia come to this little girl, because she really needs to get up to get her bowels started. I think it took ten seconds after Livia came to the room and she was running around and around! So she got a better experience, and the care was shortened," says Ann Edner.

Ann Edner is certain that Livia helps the patients - those who want to meet her - to lower stress and better cope with pain. She can have a calming influence on a child that is about to have an injection, and she can be comfort when life just is miserable.

But, in Sweden, most of the evidence of positive effects of being around dogs is still anecdotal, stories from individual patients. Therefore a research project is underway, where Ann Edner together with PhD student Maria Lindström Nilsson and dog handler Helena Odenrick will try to measure the effect on 50 patients.

""It's the best thing ever" All the things you really feel, we will try to show it scientifically," says Ann Edner.

The plan is to monitor the kids heart rate variability before, during and after the dog's visit. Also the skin's electro-impulses will be measured to see if the child is stressed and sweating, and hormone levels of cortisol (that indicated stress) and oxytocin, which is generally known as "the feel-good-hormone".

Once it is all on paper, scientifically sound, and well researched, dog trainer Helena Odenrick hopes that in the future, patients at many hospitals, and perhaps in particular children, will be able to choose to spend time with the hospital dog, just like they are able to choose other options.

"If this works well, maybe it will be the start to get more dogs into the hospitals. Like clowns, or like entertainers for the children or the sick people," says Helena Odenrick.

We've reached the end of the day, and Helena Odenrick takes me to meet 14-year-old Jasmin. She has had a long day, and is exhausted from meeting doctors and being examined, but she has been looking forward to meeting a dog here at the hospital.

Jasmin's mother Monica says they have been here for a month, and the days tend to blend into each other, with Jasmin's treatment partly partly causing her short-term memory loss. But the news that she was going to meet a dog was something that stayed with her throughout the day.

"I think it is great, I think they get a lot of joy out of it, and you see the big smile you get off her. so i think it is absolutely wonderful if they want to do that," she says.

Jasmine's eyes light up as Livia, and soon the dog is lying next to the girl, stroking her over the soft, soft fur.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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