CINCINNATI - Critically ill children will soon be able to play with their four-legged friends at Cincinnati Children's Hospital after the hospital broke ground on their Family Pet Center Thursday, marking the first United States pediatric hospital with such a facility.
Hospital representatives broke ground for the Family Pet Center at the hospital located at 3333 Burnet Ave. at 1 p.m. The center will unite critically ill children and their pets in a grassy area connected to the hospital.
The idea was borne after Children's Hospital doctor John Perentesis and CancerFree KIDS founder and executive president, Ellen Flannery, had a conversation about the facility and the value it could add to the patients.
"We did research to determine what the value is to have your pet around," Flannery said. "We became convinced that children should absolutely have this [facility]. Anyone should have this."
Countless research studies have been done since the 1960s that prove the link between the interaction with pets and the emotional well-being of people, Flannery said.
The Cincinnati Children's Family Pet Center is the first pediatric hospital in the U.S. that reunites long-term patients with their own pets. A $107,500 grant from Impact 100 helped fund the project.
"We are so excited because it will be the first in the country," Flannery said. "It's exciting, too, because we have also committed to fund research to share the outcome of the facility with other pediatric hospitals to create more pet centers."
More than 5,000 children spend more than a week at Children's Hospital each year and the average stay is 22 days, with many staying for a much longer duration.
"One [Children's Hospital patient] had been in the hospital for 180 days without a chance to see his beloved dog," Flannery said. "Stories like this truly [are] more than just putting a smile on a kid's face; it's about helping them get better. And we plan to fund the research to prove it."
For the groundbreaking, Flannery and Perentesis will be joined by President of Impact 100 Sharon Mitchell and Cincinnati Children's President and CEO Michael Fisher. Also, some of the hospital's current and former pediatric cancer patients and their four-legged friends will be at the groundbreaking.
The target date for the pet facility opening is June 1, 2013.
Stay with 9 On Your Side and WCPO.com for updates as they become available.
WCPO Digital's Alyssa Daily contributed to this report.