Anne Ingalls had an idea so good that she refers to it as a “divine spark.” A pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Ingalls experienced the pain of watching young children battle cancer every day. At the same time, she served on the board of the nonprofit Animal Care Foundation, which was connected with a veterinary specialty hospital that treated dogs for cancer. One day the idea of combining these experiences occurred to Ingalls.
“I just thought, wouldn’t it be cool to create a pen-pal program where these dogs that have gone through cancer could tell their stories, via their owners, to the kids and vice versa,” Ingalls recalled.
It sounds odd at first—letters to and from ailing dogs—but, the kids who participate in Youth and Pet Survivors (YAPS) are much more likely to share things with their canine confidantes than with nurses, doctors, even their parents.
YAPS has now spread nationwide, and the success stories are mounting. Ingalls’ favorite story is of a canine pen pal who attended the funeral of a young boy that the dog’s owner had been corresponding with. Ingalls says the dog’s owner still keeps in touch with the boy’s parents.
“The letters that the kids have written to the dogs have been remarkable,” says Ingalls. “They feel free and safe to say what they want. And even though they know at some level that the dog’s owner is doing the writing, it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s very healing for everyone involved.”