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“Adopt a Pet” helps normalize pediatric experience during COVID

Deysi, a pediatric patient at Beacon Children’s Hospital, poses with her plush bird “Pinky,” that she received during the “Adopt a Pet” event.

Pediatric patients oftentimes miss their friends and family members who aren’t able to visit them at Beacon Children’s Hospital during the pandemic. And while visitor restrictions remain in place, children are also missing snuggles with their favorite volunteer therapy dogs.

This is where Jessica Lewin and the other Beacon Child Life Specialists enter the picture: Their job is to understand the feelings these kids have and to help make their medical experience as normal as possible.

Lewin recently stumbled upon an “Adopt a Pet” idea on Pinterest and knew right away it would be a great way to give patients the autonomy they miss when they’re hospitalized.

She immediately went to work on rounding up new stuffed animals that have been donated by generous members of our community through the Beacon Health Foundation.

Jessica Lewin, Child Life Specialist, poses beside the “Adopt a Pet” table at Beacon Children’s Hospital.

“We give stuffed animals to all of our patients upon admission,” Lewin said, “but we put on our imagination cap and are telling them that they are ‘adopting’ this pet that they chose, and we give them instructions on what they need to do to care for them.”

Whales, birds, dogs, cats, sheep, lions — there’s even a hippopotamus, if you’ve ever wanted one of those for a pet, have all been set out in plastic containers on the adoption table in the atrium of the Children’s Hospital.

For the past week, pediatric patients have been able to select an animal for adoption.

“I make it ‘official’ by presenting them with a certificate of adoption,” Lewin described. “They name their pet, and then I sign and date the certificate that says they adopted their pet from Beacon Children’s Hospital.”

Patients create a pipe cleaner collar. They also receive a paper bag with a picture of a dog house on it, as their pet’s new “home,” which can be decorated with crayons. 

“We give them bubbles as the ‘food’ they are supposed to feed their pet, with strict instructions to blow the bubbles directly at their pet,” Lewin said.

“Several patients were recently here with asthma issues, so allowing them the fun encouragement to blow bubbles gave them a job and made taking deep breaths, which is important for these patients. And it’s fun and enjoyable.”