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Animal-assisted recovery and care programme to become mainstream

Published:Friday | March 31, 2023 | 12:36 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Joseph ‘Joey’ Brown (left), curator of the Hope Zoo, and his Golden Retriever, Dr Teddy Barks, interact with children from the Bustamante Hospital for Children during the launch of animal-assisted recovery care at the hospital on March 28.
Joseph ‘Joey’ Brown (left), curator of the Hope Zoo, and his Golden Retriever, Dr Teddy Barks, interact with children from the Bustamante Hospital for Children during the launch of animal-assisted recovery care at the hospital on March 28.

HEALTH MINISTER Dr Christopher Tufton has expressed optimism that the animal-assisted recovery and care (AARC) programme that was officially launched on Tuesday at the Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC), will become mainstreamed and will over time be implemented across health facilities islandwide.

The AARC programme is a multi-agency initiative which comprises of an expert team of clinical personnel from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the BHC and the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

It is a patient-centred intervention, which aims to provide therapy to paediatric patients who require long-term hospitalisation at the BHC which celebrates 60 years of service this year. The project is funded by the National Health Fund and will run for 18 months, facilitating monthly, monitored animal visits.

Several animals are to be used in the project, chief among them being a golden retriever that has been nicknamed ‘Dr Teddy Barks’. Other animals include birds, rabbits and kittens which are sourced from the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Hope Zoo and Montego Bay Animal Haven.


The zoo is responsible for the full care and maintenance of the golden retriever which was purchased for the project.

During his keynote address at the official ceremony, Tufton highlighted that the AARC project would also serve as a means to promote the humane treatment of animals and encouraged Jamaicans who share the view that animals should not be mistreated to help to encourage quality integration of animals as part of our lifestyle.

“I think we will demonstrate that we are a gentler society if we stop flinging stones at the dogs that we see or not giving them the appropriate levels of care, not building the relationship with them so that they benefit and we benefit [and] not helping them to lead a healthy life and in the process supporting us in leading a healthy life also,” he added.

The mission statement of the project is to promote holistic health and well-being by fostering the relationship between humans and animals. The expectation is the project will be evaluated at six-month intervals and if successful, a Cabinet submission will be made seeking the approval for the development of the programme to be rolled out islandwide in health facilities.

Verol Billett, clinical psychologist at Caribbean Tots to Teens for his part spoke to another benefit of animal therapy which helped children to overcome trauma. He stated that it was very challenging for children to deal with being kept in the intensive care unit for long periods of times.


He added that in various studies it has been uncovered that children also experienced fears and anxieties deemed as traumatic when going to the hospital for an injection or for minor treatment.

He detailed that animals exhibited patience and provides comfort to human beings whereas through this, they can foster an immediate connection with children and offer support.

“An additional component is that the fur, the touch, the smell, the unconditional love they receive from animals is next to none so they feel very welcome [and] safe and for that I’m sure it is part of why we see such great results from the inclusion of animals in treatment,” he said.

Billett continued that animal therapy was a long-term treatment that also teaches children how to be responsible, accountable, increase their communication and resilience and offer them a sense of purpose given that being in a hospital can cause feelings of isolation in children.

Kenneth Benjamin, chairman of the BHC, stated that under his leadership, the hospital team will continue to ensure that the grounds of the hospital will be transformed into an eco-friendly environment that will improve the health conditions of the nation’s children.

Last year April, a staff sensitisation session was conducted at the BHC which aimed to provide an overview of the pilot programme and obtain feedback and recommendations prior to implementation. The South East Regional Health Authority will oversee the implementation of those recommendations.

Tufton continued in his remarks that health and wellness needed to be defined in a broader context.

“Often times we neglect to recognise the important role of health and wellness in all the spheres of life and of living – from the environmental perspective, from the other living things perspective, from the mental health, mental space, state of mind perspective,” he said.

He further noted that greater focus needed to be placed on recovery and prevention and not solely on cure after a person has already been inflicted with disease and other adversities.

“We must find ways as a people to reduce our incidents of trauma, our incidents of depression and anxiety, our down time as individuals which we are all vulnerable to,” he said.

He added that if citizens were able to broaden their thinking with this kind of redefinition of what health represents, society would as a result embrace programmes such as the AARC project.