Since social distancing means therapy dogs can't visit many hospitals, a heartwarming new initiative aims to support children fighting cancer with a cuddly stuffed animal and book to read.

By Maressa Brown
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Canines N Kids Foundation

Kids battling cancer are now facing strict social distancing measures meant to protect their health and the health of their loved ones. But children isolated in pediatric oncology units don't have to feel so alone, thanks to a program created by the Canines-N-Kids Foundation, a charitable nonprofit committed to finding a cure to the devastating cancers that canines and children face in common.

The initiative, called Project Hearts & Tails, aims to bring comfort and hope to kids diagnosed with cancer while raising awareness around cancers that dogs and kids both develop (such as bone cancer, brain cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia).

Launched in February, Project Hearts & Tails provides pediatric oncology patients with care packages. Every child receives a soft stuffed black lab pup named BRAVE and Canines-N-Kids’ We'll Get Through This Together book, written by Ulrike Szalay, the founder and executive director of Canines-N-Kids Foundation and illustrated by artist Roberta Marovelli. The book explains how dogs' unconditional love, comfort, and friendship can help kids get through their treatment journey and also explores themes like the physical changes children might face and being separated from loved ones.

The care package as a whole is meant to help Certified Child Life specialists strike up a conversation with the kids about the emotions they're feeling around their experience.

Now, in light of the pandemic, requests for the care packages from children's hospitals all over the country have spiked, according to a press release.

"We knew our care packages would bring comfort and joy to pediatric patients, but we didn’t anticipate the demand to be this high so quickly,” explained Ulrike Szalay, executive director and founder, Canines-N-Kids, in the release. "The pandemic has made a scary time even scarier and lonelier for kids fighting cancer, so we are mobilizing to distribute the Project Heart & Tails care packages as fast as possible. By highlighting the special bond kids and dogs share, we look forward to bringing smiles to kids, and would welcome support to better meet the need."

The organization has seen firsthand how hospitals are tightening their restrictions to protect young, vulnerable patients, limiting access to family members and programs like animal-assisted therapy. And because there are also more intense sanitary requirements being implemented, kids can't enjoy common areas and toys as readily as they had in the past.

Now, care packages have been distributed to hospitals in Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; South Bend, Indiana; Savannah, Georgia; Lubbock, Texas; and Toledo, Ohio.

To support the Canine-N-Kids Foundation, you can donate here. $30 will deliver a book and pup to a pediatric oncology patient.

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