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Reducing Stress Among Medical Workers

May 15, 2020

Wearing bright yellow boots, goggles and a fluorescent green raincoat, Harley the one-eyed pug strolls the hallways of a coronavirus hospital in Mexico City, providing emotional support and stress relief to an exhausted medical staff.

The 3-year-old trained therapy dog even has his own Facebook page where he regularly posts personal messages, check-ins and links to numerous media mentions so his 900 followers can keep up to date on his activities and growing fame.

In a recent post, the dog shared drawings that were sent to him from two young children in London, thanking them for being his fans.

Harley’s owner, neuropsychologist Lucía Ledesma Torres, calls the pug her “co-therapist,” and says the dog’s two-hour daily visits have helped alleviate the “psychological, affective, and psychic stress” of healthcare personnel treating coronavirus patients at the National Medical Center 20 de Noviembre located in the nation’s capital, an epicenter of the virus in Mexico.

Harley has been providing therapy to Ledesma’s patients with psychiatric and psychological conditions for years, she says, interacting with people and drawing out feelings of empathy as they play with him.

Ledesma and her colleagues first discussed bringing Harley to the hospital to do the same in February, envisioning the tension the coronavirus would unleash in hospitals due to the overwhelming number of patients they were bound to see as the pandemic progressed.

Some colleagues immediately wanted to play with Harley, Ledesma says, noting that members of the hospital’s medical team enjoy taking a few minutes out of their day to pet and cuddle the affectionate pug, giving them a brief but welcome respite from caring for the sick and the trials of isolation from family and friends.

“We must consider the length of deprivation of physical contact we have experienced, especially among the staff on the frontlines who have been separated from their own families for fear of contagion,” she says of the dog’s appeal among doctors and nurses.

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