(Montreal) Kitchi certainly has the best job in all of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Only one working day per week. Compulsory overtime? Not know.

His only responsibility is to distribute all the love of which he is capable. And in exchange, we offer him hugs and treats.

A dream job, what.

Kitchi is the newest member of the hospital’s pet therapy team. On the job since January, the two-year-old goldendoodle meets on this late winter morning (or early spring, for the most optimistic) Maève, a 13-year-old teenager who had been hospitalized for a week for a mysterious infection that left her was suddenly sent to the intensive care unit.

As soon as the door of the room opens and she sees the one who will be her companion for the next half hour, Maève’s face lights up with a smile that will never disappear.

“I wasn’t thinking about anything anymore,” the girl said after her session with Kitchi. I was just thinking about the time I was spending with him. »

And that’s where the “magic” (we’ll get to that in a moment) of animal therapy happens: changing the minds of patients whose daily lives are often made up of a series of tests and treatments, in addition to their provide the comfort, courage and hope they need to get through it all.

Maève met Kitchi just hours before she was discharged from the hospital. It was, in a way, his “reward” for the ordeal of the last week. The day before, she had also met P. K. Subban, the former defender of the Montreal Canadiens who is one of the main benefactors of the Children’s.

She did not want to answer when asked which meeting, the one with Kitchi or the one with our national P.K., gave her the most pleasure. But the sparkle in his eyes made us think the former NHL star might not have deserved the first star that morning.

Researchers are still studying and documenting the possible benefits of pet therapy. A few studies published on the subject in recent years refer to “preliminary” evidence or even a “short or medium-term effect” whose exact source remains to be clarified.

Either. But when you get a front-row seat to witness the human-animal interaction, you don’t need a randomized, double-blind study to feel what’s going on.

“There is a thousand-year-old bond between humans and animals,” said Sarah Archambault, who has worked in counseling and animal therapy for more than 15 years, and who accompanies Kitchi during her visits to the hospital. There is something magical that is not magic. We’re not in the future, we’re not in the past, we’re here, and there’s something soothing about being in the present, and it’s the animal that keeps us present. That’s what’s a bit magical about it. »

Kitchi is the second dog Zootherapy Quebec has sent to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. If Kitchi is a 36-kilo colossus, his colleague Maya is a tiny Maltese who recently celebrated his 10th birthday.

The two dogs belong to good Samaritans who offer their services to Zoothérapie Québec. The organization decides, after a rigorous evaluation, if the animal has the appropriate temperament and character for this type of work.

“In our jargon, we call it ‘knowing your job,'” explained the director general of Zoothérapie Québec, Stéphan Francœur. In the office, (the dog) may exhibit XYZ behavior. But in the hospital, he needs to be a little calmer, to be able to settle down. »

The presence of the dog does not only benefit the patient, he adds. The testimonials of relatives and even caregivers ― who tell how good it is to see a child smile who has not smiled for a week, who confide that the child has been talking for several days about his upcoming animal visit ― are many.

Ultimately, continues Mr. Francœur, the animal is a bit of a tool that facilitates what is “first and foremost” a human intervention by a skilled worker with a beneficiary ― a beneficiary who, in the case of the Children’s, is a child, which in itself adds a particular emotional charge, whose presence at the next appointment will not always be guaranteed.

“The first few times, no, I was not able,” admitted Ms. Archambault when asked if she was able to not bring home what she saw in the hospital. I would come home and cry for two hours. I had to mentally prepare myself before arriving. I was coming to an environment where there will be children (who) have serious illnesses, so you have to arm yourself a little, you have to learn to come here to do what you have to do then when you come out, and let it all go a little bit. »

Kitchi and Maya are usually not enough to meet demand. Only a somewhat unusual alignment of the stars―more toddlers between the hospital walls, more patients too sick to be around a dog, fewer long-term patients―allowed Maève to spend a few minutes with Kitchi.

Even after carefully selecting patients eligible for pet therapy, in particular to ensure that their health will not be threatened by contact with the dog, there are normally still too many patients for what can be accommodated, confided Nathalie Lord, the pediatric counselor responsible for this difficult triage.

“It gives kids a chance to give love, to have control over something, to obviously get lots and lots of love,” she said. Children who, for example, hardly speak at all, suddenly start talking a lot. I have often observed this. Children who have hardly moved because they are afraid to move because of their medical condition, of what they are going through, all of a sudden they regain control over what they are going through, then they move , they feel like moving. »

No matter the department, she says, several children tell her that this time spent with the dog is “the most beautiful moment” of their week and that it will be “the experience that they will take home”.

Maève is certainly part of the lot. After several difficult days, her meeting with Kitchi enabled her to end her stay at the Children’s on a positive note.

When leaving the scene, the small group made up of representatives of the hospital, Ms. Archambault, Kitchi and the representative of La Presse Canadienne passed in front of the door of the room of the young teenager. Encouraged by Ms. Archambault, Kitchi leaned both paws against the bedroom window to greet her new friend one last time.

Maève, who was in the middle of a conversation with her father, turned around and her smile, which hadn’t gone away, returned, brighter than ever.

Kitchi’s presence with the patients of the Montreal Children’s Hospital is made possible by the support of the Cedars Sarah Fund and the Ronnie’s Joy Foundation.