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Therapy Dogs Making Virtual Visits

May 21, 2020

A therapy dog in Los Angeles isn’t letting the coronavirus outbreak pause her mission to help others. Laney, a Golden Retriever, and her owner are taking their visits virtual.

Laney is a therapy dog that’s part of the “Paws for Patients” program at the Osborne Head and Neck Foundation. The organization does free ear, nose and throat surgeries for families who cannot afford procedures.

“Patients need some sort of distraction if they’re feeling a lot of pain, so Laney is a great way to distract them,” said Aimee Galicia Torres, Laney’s owner. “What we’ve noticed virtually is that it’s pretty much the same thing.”

Laney and Aimee were preparing to visit sick patients around the world for their first medical mission trip, but because of COVID-19, they had to put a hold on traveling.

Galicia Torres decided to get creative, and instead of stopping therapy services, the pair took their work virtual.

“There are people who need help,” said Galicia Torres. “There are people who need a smile in their day, there are people we can reach and help.”

Now, it’s not just patients Laney visits–anyone can make a Zoom appointment, for free, to connect with this special pup.

“Some kids just want to see the dog, but Laney, as a therapy dog, her main skill is to provide compassion and empathy and be in tune to people’s needs,” said Galicia Torres.

Laney didn’t skip a beat adjusting to the virtual visits.

“As soon as she knows the lights go on and I have a camera, she stands behind the backdrop and sits and smiles. She’s very sassy and poses,” said Galicia Torres.

Some visits are filled with dress-up costumes and children reading to Laney, but for veterans like Jimmy Harris, the Zoom calls are a powerful release.

“Some vets, you know, they see horrible things in the military, in combat, and it can mess with someone’s mind,” said Harris, who has served in Egypt and Romania. “So, I think the connection with an animal really brings a calmness to someone’s mind.”

That escape sorely needed by so many more in this pandemic.

“She’s able to help people build those connections up they might have lost touch with because of COVID-19,” said Galicia Torres.

Even when this outbreak ends, Galicia Torres said she and Laney will continue this new kind of healing—a healing Galicia Torres felt firsthand.

“I lost my dog a year and a half ago, and I got Laney last year. Dogs have always given me help and have given me hope during difficult times, and I wanted to be able to bring that to people,” she said.

Their simple mission of a smile is like a good chew toy: too precious to ever give up.

“If we can just bring hope to people, then we did our job,” Galicia Torres said.

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