Four-legged medicine helps children be children again

9:49 PM, Sep 30, 2011   |    comments
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Doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital Colorado provide Delaney and other kids with the best medical treatment available in an effort to heal the body. A program called YAPS, or Youth and Pet Survivors, helps to heal the soul and lets children be children again.

YAPS was created in 2001 by Anne Gillespie, a nurse at Children's Hospital Colorado. The program pairs children battling cancer with dogs and cats facing the same challenge. They communicate as pen-pals and share life experiences.

"They find it very comforting to know that an animal has to deal with the same things that they are and they get through it," Gillespie said.

Delaney, who is 16 years old, is pen-pals with Bruiser, a 7-year-old Mastiff diagnosed a year ago with cancer. Veterinarians were able to save Bruiser's life by amputating the right front leg and using chemotherapy.

Initially, there were concerns over whether Bruiser could be saved.

"That night was the worst night that I can remember and really awful. We thought we were going to have to say goodbye to Bruiser," Stephanie Dunbar, Bruiser's owner, said.

When he did recover, Dunbar and her husband, Chris, realized Bruiser could help children facing a similar challenge. They enrolled Bruiser in the YAPS program and waited to be paired with a child, something that didn't take long once Delaney saw his photo in a book.

"I chose Bruiser because I live in Longmont and he lives in Denver, so we're only an hour away from each other, so we would be able to actually meet," Delaney said.

Delaney and Bruiser, with the help of the Dunbars, exchanged letters for months before the time finally came for them to meet. At a K-9 cancer walk benefitting the Morris Animal Foundation, Delaney had the chance to finally sit and pet the gentle giant she came to know through letters.

"He's cool. He's funny," Delaney said.

What Bruiser brings to Delaney is very simple and can best be seen on her face.

"Happiness," Amy Goodner, Delaney's mother, said. "It is pretty huge. There's a lot that she goes through and a lot of feelings that she has and sometimes there's not a lot of smiles."

Delaney is able to say things in a letter to Bruiser that are hard to communicate to an adult.

"I feel like when I read them, I hear a girl that needs to be able to get some stuff out," Chris Dunbar said.

In the 10 years since YAPS was founded, they have paired more than 100 children with pet pen-pals. The reason for the program's success is very simple. While doctors and nurses work to save the child's life, YAPS let's them live it.

"It provides a whole break and allows you to focus on something other than other feelings that you are feeling," Goodner said.

For more information about YAPS, you can go to their website at or contact them at

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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