Unconditional love from Furry Doctors
by Isabella Lo and Choco Tang
On November 8, three animal therapy dogs – Donna, Oscar and Sunday – made a visit to the Hong Chi Winifred Mary Cheung Morninghope School again to meet with their long-awaited friends.
Dr Dog, an animal-assisted therapy programme by Animals Asia, aims to provide a friend for those with special needs, such as the elderly, the sick and the children with emotional weakness or disability.
Ben Tsui Hiu-fung, a primary six student from the special needs school, could not hide his excitement when he hugged Donna again after a week in the room filled with laughter.
Another student from the same year, Sunny Lo Siu-sun, patted the head of another furry friend, Sunday, when he was reading his storybook to the other patient dogs.
The school’s registered social worker, Esther Chan Choi-wan, said the dogs will not judge children by their appearance or illness.
“They spread an unconditional love for our children regardless of their personalities, their disabilities and their age,” said Ms Chan.
The therapy programme, which has started to offer companion animals across Asia 25 years ago, has cooperated with this school to serve children with mild and moderate intellectual disability since 2005.
Before meeting their loyal friends, the children have to complete a few goals at school. “They are encouraged to attain some achievements, such as attending school on time, and be obedient during lessons,” said Esther.
Spending 15 to 20 minutes weekly with registered therapy dogs, children are encouraged to take care and interact with their ‘friends’, and to build an intimate relationship with them.
Marnie Yau Ma-yue, the programme manager of Dr Dog, said particular children are sorted out to spend more time with doctor dogs. “Like any other interests, if the children show substantial love and caring for animals, we will allow a longer meet-up with the dogs,” she said.
During the weekly meet-up, volunteers from Anima Asia will teach children how to look after dogs, such as walking the dog, brushing and feeding them, while the children will also learn the importance of lifelong commitment and that they shouldn’t abandon animals.
Apart from being at least two years old and neutered, dogs are required to pass an examination before becoming Dr Dogs. “We will examine the dogs’ reaction under particular disturbance, such as pulling their tails suddenly and attempting to take the food out of its mouth,” said Ms Yau.
Before saying goodbye to the furry friends, Ben and Sunny gave a present to the Dr dogs and the volunteers – a hand-drawn picture of a dog. “Goodbye, Donna, Oscar and Sunday. I will see you next week,” the boys spoke in anticipation.
(Edited by Herbert Cheung; video edited by Natalie Wong)
Dr Dog is an animal-assisted therapy programme by Animals Asia,which aims to provide a friend for those with special needs – such as the elderly, the sick and the children with emotional weakness or disability.
Operation Santa Claus, the city’s annual fund-raising campaign jointly organised by South China Morning Post SCMP and RTHK Radio 3 Hong Kong.