Orlando dog therapy program eyes expansion after $279K donation

ORLANDO, Fla. – A program designed to help relieve patient anxiety is expanding thanks to a six-figure donation.

On Thursday, PetSmart Charities presented Orlando Health with a $279,000 grant for its pet therapy program.

The funding will be used to add up to 30 dog and handler teams, which will increase areas of visitation throughout several hospitals.

"That program has become so important just in the healing and caring process for our patients here," Orlando Health Foundation President John Bozard said.  "It'll allow us to take our dogs to outpatient centers and see our patients who have been treated there."

According to Orlando Health officials, the pet therapy program has been in existence for several years and includes 60 dog-handler teams who make more than 50,000 pet therapy visits annually.

In 2016, therapy dogs were used to help patients recover after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Jan Vena helped treat several of the victims with her collie named Belle.

"We understood the hurt they were going through, and they would wrap their arms around Belle and cry in her (fur)," Vena said.

Orlando Health administrators said money from the grant will provide funding for the next three to four years and will help further expand the pet therapy program.

About the Author:

Mark Lehman became a News 6 reporter in July 2014, but he's been a Central Florida journalist and part of the News 6 team for much longer. While most people are fast asleep in their bed, Mark starts his day overnight by searching for news on the streets of Central Florida.