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VIDEO: Therapy Dog Prof. Bunsen Honeydew Helps Sick Children at Mt. Sinai

By Shaye Weaver | June 21, 2017 10:49pm | Updated on June 22, 2017 7:53am
 Aiden Schaefer plays with Professor Bunsen Honeydew.
Aiden Schaefer plays with Professor Bunsen Honeydew.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

EAST HARLEM — Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's Hospital has a new doctor in its halls and his name is Professor Bunsen Honeydew — an 18-month-old golden doodle therapy dog.

Professor has completely changed the morale at the hospital, especially for 3-year-old Aiden Schaefer, who was diagnosed with leukemia for the second time on April 7 and seemed to be taking a turn for the worse when he stopped wanting to do anything, according to his parents, Patrick and Denise Schaefer.

It wasn't until the professor walked into the hospital that Aiden smiled and played again, they said.

"Our last week we were here, we thought we were going home on Monday and we didn't. ... Aiden just stopped," Denise Schaefer said. "That weekend Aiden stopped walking. Everybody said, 'This is it. This is leukemia. This is the reaction from gaining 6 pounds from steroids, from muscle weakness and numbness.' We figured this is what was going to happen for the next six months. The following Monday, we saw Professor and Aidan said, "Mommy, walk Professor," and he got up and took the leash. All he needed was Professor to get walking again, and he hasn't stopped running since that day."

Therapy dogs lower the stress and anxiety of children as they go through their treatments and also gets children to connect with each other during their visits and stays at the hospital, hospital officials say.

And the way Aiden reacts to Professor is what staffers at the Kravis Children's Hospital's hope will continue happening for all their patients.

On Wednesday, Kravis celebrated the start of its new "Paws and Play" facility dog program, which was made possible thanks to a $350,000 grant from PetSmart Charities that will be distributed over the next three years. This is the first time there's ever been a therapy dog at the center and in the state, hospital and PetSmart Charities officials said.

During the celebration, Professor was paraded around patients and hospital staffers, and given a gift basket of treats and toys.

"[Professor Bunsen Honeydew] has a full time job and he's the only one at the hospital who gets to take naps and take walks in the park," said Birte Wistinghauser, the acting division chief and medical director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Kravis.

"He's such a calming and therapeutic presence to our patients," she said. "He brings smiles to everybody's faces. It takes the anxiety level down, and we try to really create a second home for the patients because they spend all day with us, so it makes it a more inviting environment. He calms children during their blood draws and gets patients to interact with one another because it's often easier to make a friend over a dog."

The pup started working with families at the end of March — walking through the hallways with patients, tugging on ropes and toys, and simply just being a soft and cozy companion — and he's already part of the hospital's family, staffers say.

Professor, who is named after the Muppet scientist, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, comes in in the morning and stays all day until he goes home with his handler, Ali Spike.

Before he landed at Kravis, he completed a high-level therapy dog training program where he was exposed to a number of environments and experiences that would prepare him to work with children and families, according to Mount Sinai officials. 

"This is not just a chance to bring the patients a needed respite from the often painful and awkward procedures they have to go through here, but it's also a chance for normalcy for the families that get to enjoy having professor around and the staff and rest of the community here at Mt. Sinai," said Dr. David Haworth, the president of PetSmart Charities.