Requests from children's hospitals nationwide for Canines-N-Kids Foundation’s (CNK) Project Hearts & Tails’ care packages have grown rapidly since COVID-19 has brought stricter isolation measures to pediatric oncology units. Launched recently, Project Hearts & Tails delivers hope to kids diagnosed with cancer as well as attention to the shared cancers that dogs and kids both develop. Each child receives a soft stuffed black lab pup and We'll Get Through This Together! book from Canines-N-Kids, a DC area nonprofit committed to promoting research that integrates efforts for the benefit of both kids and dogs with cancer.
"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. 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," explained Ulrike Szalay, executive director and founder, Canines-N-Kids.
Due to the real threat from COVID-19, hospitals have implemented tight restrictions to protect the youngest and most vulnerable patients, including limiting access to family members and freezing engagement programs like animal assisted therapy. More stringent sanitary requirements mean that common areas and toys may not be accessible to many young patients. Child Life specialists and care teams are challenged to provide kids new ways to cope with acute isolation. In response, the Children's Hospital Association this past week alerted its member hospitals about CNK’s newly-launched Project Hearts & Tails. Already seven hospitals in Boston, MA; Chicago, IL, Baton Rouge, LA; South Bend, IN; Savannah, GA; Lubbock, TX; and Toledo, OH have requested Hearts & Tails’ care packages.
The care packages come with cuddly stuffed animals, aptly named "BRAVE," to accompany kids on their treatment journeys, Canines-N-Kids’ book "We'll Get Through This Together!," and a red baseball cap co-branded with the iconic Black Dog Tavern Company logo. In We’ll Get Through This Together!, a pet black lab shares his perspective of joining a boy going through every step of his cancer treatment. Written by Canines-N-Kids’ founder, the children’s book is the anchor of Project Hearts &Tails, which has a goal of delivering the book and a stuffed dog to kids going through cancer treatment at hospitals nationwide. Each year, an estimated 16,000 kids are diagnosed.
The Project was launched in late February with the first delivery to children undergoing cancer treatment at Boston Children's Hospital (BCH). Prior to the pandemic, the care packages arrived to children via the hospital's Pet Partners Canine ambassadors, who wore CNK’s signature Crush Cancer @ Both Ends of the Leash® golden bandana to make their rounds. Child Life specialists used the books and pups to help spark conversation with the kids about the sometimes scary and lonely treatment experience.
The Project also educates adults about another connection that dogs and kids have. Cancer is the number one cause of disease-related death in children and nearly half of all canines die from cancer. Several cancers develop in both kids and man’s best friend such as bone cancer, brain cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. In many cases, these cancers are biologically similar or even indistinguishable between kids and dogs, and also far more prevalent in man’s best friend.
There is little movement behind new (or better) treatments for either of these vulnerable groups. That’s why Canine-N-Kids leads the integration of science and medicine to find the connections and new medications to help cure these vulnerable cancer patients who are both two legged and four legged. Project Hearts &Tails is part of CNK’s work to find a cure for both.
Shawn Flaherty, 703-554-3609