Participants in the Youth and Pet Survivors program – otherwise known as YAPS – recently met at High Prairie Farms in Parker, Colo. It was a reunion for some and for others a chance to meet their new pen pals.
The YAPS Program, which originated in November, 2001, was the idea of Anne Ingalls, a registered nurse in the oncology department of The Children’s Hospital of Denver. Along with Ingalls, who also serves as the director of the YAPS program, was help from members of the Animal Care Foundation’s Community Outreach Committee, a non-profit organization of the Veterinary Referral Center of Denver.
This unique program works by matching a child with cancer to a dog that has survived a battle with cancer. The children look through a book called a "pen pal portfolio" that contains pictures and biographies of canine cancer survivors participating in the program. The children then pick a dog to be their pen pal, and the relationship grows from there.
Co-director Colleen Chambers is a veterinary technician at the referral center where she helps recruit the dogs and their owners for the program.
Amanda Gillenwater, 23, is a survivor of a brain tumor she was diagnosed with when she was just 3 years old. Gillenwater, who heard about the program while at Children’s recently, was meeting her new pen pal for the first time at the reunion. "I met Anne back when I was really little," Gillenwater said. "She’s also the one who told me about the program. This reunion has been a lot of fun."
Having been out of treatment for nearly 20 years, Gillenwater chose a dog named Max that also went through treatment and has since pulled through.
Max, 11, has been working with kids in one way or another at Children’s for most of his life. Starting when he was 2, Max became part of the Pet Prescription program at the hospital, visiting kids on a regular basis. Once he was diagnosed with lymphoma in late April, he was no longer allowed to participate in that program and had some of his own challenges to face.
Max, now done with his treatment, is active and back to helping kids. At 11 years old, Max has been through quite a bit and bounced back like a champ. "He’s been a real trooper," said his owner Mary Maikoetter. "He went through his treatment and lost some of his hair, but he’s done great."
Working with the same veterinarian he’s been going to for several years, Max was able to recover from his cancer and is now part of the YAPS program. "He really missed the kids when he wasn’t able to participate in the Prescription Pets program," Maikoetter said. Max wasn’t able to participate due to some of the elements of his treatment and the medications he was taking, since some of them lowered his immune system’s ability to fight common illnesses. Some of the medication also increased the possibility of him becoming aggressive or irritable, Maikoetter said.
"Now that he’s doing better, I think I’m going to try and let him do both programs," Maikoetter said. "He really loves the kids and loves to be around them."
by Jason P. Smith