Therapy dogs help Minn. girl to walk again

Dec. 25, 2011 at 8:49 AM
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MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- A U.S. girl with a rare neurological disease couldn't lift her head off her pillow, but a pet therapy dog got her on the road to recovery, therapists say.

Ally Gillen was a happy, healthy 6-year-old when she started having trouble walking and then moving. She was diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an extremely rare neurological disease that affects some 3,000 to 5,000 children a year.

Ally's muscles were shutting down and any type of movement was extremely painful, her mother said, until an occupational therapist at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis brought a therapy dog.

The girl, who had been in the hospital for about seven weeks and missed her own dog Angel, was so happy to see the dog she moved her arm to pet the therapy dog, she said in a statement. The repetitive motion of petting the dog becomes a form of therapy and eventually Ally began to move again.

She redeveloped her fine motor skills by dressing the therapy dogs in costumes. She took the dogs for walks in her wheel chair and she later followed dogs as she crawled through tunnels and the dogs helped her relearn to walk.

Ally, who is is now 12, recovered and she said she wants to be a occupational therapist when she grows up. Her mother and Angel took the 18-month course for therapy dogs and will be helping others in their hospital recoveries.

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