Zoos Bring Animal Kingdom to Patients at St. V's

Sep 16, 2016

Local kids came face to face with a Three-Banded Armadillo at St. Vincent Healthcare Sept. 16, 2016.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Local kids came face to face with a Great Horned Owl, a Three-Banded Armadillo and a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach at St. Vincent Healthcare Sept. 16. The animals – and their handlers – were on hand to bring the healing power of animals into the hospital.

The project is called San Diego Zoo Kids. It’s a closed-circuit television channel broadcast throughout the hospital. 

San Diego Zoo Kids is a collaboration of the San Diego Zoo, ZooMontana, St. Vincent’s Children’s Healthcare and Ronald McDonald Charities of Eastern Montana.

The partnership makes sense, said St.Vincent’s President and CEO Dennis Sulser.

“The common thread, saving, healing and nurturing is very clear within all of our organizations,” Sulser said.

Pediatrician Janis Langohr, dressed in a cheetah print blouse for the occasion, said animals and healing go hand in hand.

“Animals distract us from businessman and our troubles, fill our lonely voids, and evoke emotions of love and caring,” Langohr said.  “I think that’s why it’s such an important part of the healing mission at St. Vincent’s healthcare.”

The project is funded by philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, as well by local partners: The Children’s Clinic, the 2M Company, and McDonald's of Yellowstone County.

Zoo Kids offers up-close video encounters with animals, including San Diego Zoo’s famous Panda Cam and short video vignettes by Billings’ own ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt.

Research shows animals can help children – and adults – heal, Ewelt said.  It’s because of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.

“This hormone is released when a person is interacting with animals. That’s what we want to bring,” Ewelt said.  “We want to help the children to think of something else, other than the treatments they have to go through.  It’s a tough road for them.  If we can bring a smile to their faces at the time they need it the most that’s why we do what we do.”

Zoo Kids debuted in 2013 in San Diego. Since then, it’s been installed in almost 70 children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses in 23 states across the U.S., and in three countries.