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BRASILIA, Brazil — Each week, patients at the Support Hospital of Brasilia receive visits from a special breed of therapist: dogs trained to help them recover from disease or injury.

Big and small, from German shepherds to Shih Tzus, the dogs get into bed with some patients to snuggle during the 15-minute visits. Folks who are more mobile may take an animal to a crafts class, or play with it in the hallways.

Antonio Araujo, 67, gets a visit from a Shitzu dog named Mille as he rests in bed at the Support Hospital of Brasilia, Brazil. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Designed for people who have advanced-stage cancer, live with chronic disease or are recovering from trauma, the program of canine interactions assists with both mental and physical rehabilitation.

“A bit of the sadness goes away,” said Jaqueline Castro, a 27-year-old patient with a degenerative nerve disorder who received three visits in a month.

The project began about five months ago and now counts 60 volunteers who bring their pets to the hospital in Brazil’s capital each week.

Herivania de Souza, 30, pets a Shitzu dog named Mille. Interactions with animals help with both mental and physical rehabilitation. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

But not just any old mutt can make the cut: Only about one out of every 10 dogs whose owners volunteer is accepted, according to program coordinator Nayara Brea.

Elizangela Santos, 35, receiving cancer treatment, rubs the chin of a Schnauzer dog named Paola Every Thursday, patients here receive visits from dogs trained to help them in their recovery. (AP Photo/Peres)

The animals must pass extensive health checks and undergo training, as they are brought right into the wards of the hospital. They must be exceptionally calm to avoid stressing out the patients. They can’t bark, and they have to be gentle with both humans and other canines.

A therapy dog “accepts the patients without any judgment,” said Valeria Carvalho, who brings her miniature Schnauzer, Paola, to the hospital. “People start to have a different perspective on life, on health.”

Volunteers lead their therapy dogs into the Support Hospital of Brasilia to visit patients in Brasilia, Brazil. The hospital’s pet therapy project began about five months ago and now counts 60 volunteers. (AP/Eraldo Peres)
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