Oakland hospital helping kids recover by combining dogs and music therapy

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Oakland hospital helping kids recover by combining dogs and music
Oakland's UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital is helping kids recover by combining service dogs and music therapy as part of its treatment program.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- For 11-year-old Jesus Roman Ramirez, everyday tasks can be a struggle. Since December, the Stockton native has been at UCSF Benioff's Children's Hospital in Oakland recovering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

As a part of his treatment plan, Jesus has been participating in the hospital's music therapy program - with the assistance of a very special helper.

"He visits me, and I always go give him some cuddles and he's my best friend," Jesus said.

Meet Arnie, one of the hospital's facility dogs.

Together with his trainer Erica, Arnie helps patients like Jesus.

This program has been around for over 16 years and was one of the first of its kind in Northern California. And experts tell us the benefits of working with animals like Arnie here are plentiful.

"Music, as we know, is healing. And to have the combination of the healing process of music and being able to have Arnie as a tool to utilize for patients - I think is very unique and makes the experience amazing for our patients," said Rechelle Porter.

Porter is the musical therapy program's director.

She says studies have shown the benefit of patients working with both animals and music.

Those benefits go beyond just the physical, though.

MORE: Bay Area family's journey from cancer to hospital music programs around the world

A Los Gatos family started a foundation that is giving millions to fund music therapy programs around the world, including at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.

Porter tells me they also help with the mental side of things - an often overlooked but critical part of the recovery process for patients who are sometimes in the hospital for months at a time.

"Part of healing is also the emotional piece. Really having the opportunity to cope with that experience and having different outlets to do that," Porter said.

Arnie helps patients with everything from improving mobility skills to increasing flexibility.

During our visit Wednesday, he was even there to keep Jesus company as he walked around the hospital ward.

The first time, we were told, that Jesus did it without having to stop for a break.

VIDEO: Boy with autism meets new service dog, bonds instantly

Kai, a 5-year-old boy with autism, meets his new service dog.

Jesus' father - speaking to us with the help of a translator - says he's thrilled with the progress his son has made.

"He's made great advancements, and right now we're working on his legs and mobility. But I think he's made great strides and is able to get around better now," he said.

Both the musical therapy program and the facility dogs are funded completely by donations.

And the hospital says they hope to one day expand them even further.

Creating benefits and changing lives for more patients like Jesus.

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