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Therapy dogs aid kids dealing with illness in family

Ziggy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix,

Ziggy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix, enjoys a reading from a Dr. Seuss book during the SIBSPlace Valentine's Day party in Hewlett. (Feb. 14, 2012) (Credit: Mary Kate Mahoney)

For the first five years of their sister Brianna’s life, Faryal and Jenna Mohammed, now 12 and 10, respectively, watched as their parents spent weeks at the hospital with her.

Brianna, 8, was born with kidney failure. She was hospitalized for most of her young life and underwent two kidney transplants.

During this time, her sisters took refuge at SIBSPlace, a free program established by South Nassau Communities Hospitalto to help siblings and children of individuals affected by devastating illnesses cope.

“SIBS was the best thing that ever happened to us, especially my older two,” Emma Mohammed, the girls’ mother, said.

Mohammed joined her daughters on Tuesday night, along with 25 other children and their families, at the SIBSPlace headquarters on Broadway in Hewlett for a Valentine’s Day party. The event was sponsored by Bideawee, a Manhattan-based pet adoption program with locations in Wantagh and Westhampton. Two therapy dogs were brought in to play with the children and join in a reading session.

Mowgli, a goldendoodle, and Ziggy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix, enjoyed a reading from Dr. Seuss’ “Are You My Mother?” They were also presented with bandannas created by the SIBSPlace children.

“It’s wonderful; they really learn how great and beneficial the relationship is with the dogs,” SIBSPlace supervisor Suzanne Kornblatt said. “The parents are so often tending to the sick child, and the siblings are often overlooked. It’s nice for them to be nurtured and focused on.”

SIBSPlace, founded in 2001, employs several licensed therapists and 30 trained volunteers. The program uses a range of therapies, including art and group sessions, to help children deal with the stress of loss and anxiety.

“The pet therapy provides a great balance to all the other therapies we offer,” SIBSPlace coordinator Joanna Formont said. “Some children don’t respond well in regular sessions, but bring in a dog and it creates an instant bond.”

Ziggy, a Bideawee therapy dog, enjoys a reading from a Dr. Seuss book during the SIBSPlace Valentine's Day party in Hewlett. (Feb. 14, 2012)

Tags: Hewlett , therapy , dogs , SIBSPlace

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