She had two teeth. Her mouth was open. She cried softly and squirmed in her Dad’s arms. In the way of infants who feel miserable, she whined, “Ee-yah...ee-yah...ee-yah...”
Misty and I had just entered the hospital when we heard those words that spur us into action: “Look, Sweetie, puppy!” Dad, who himself was beginning to appear rather miserable, was attempting a tried-and-true distraction... and it worked!
As soon as Misty and I veered over to unhappy Dad and Daughter, the whining halted abruptly: “ee-yah...ee-...” Like a switch had been flicked on, the little girl grinned, chubby fingers reaching toward Misty’s furry neck. Misty loves kids. And I love watching Misty love kids. Slight wagging of her tail: nothing too exuberant or scary.
The baby hadn’t expected the soft licking of her arms. The smile on her face froze momentarily until her Dad said, “Did the puppy give you kisses? Did you get kisses?” Immediately, the infant’s whole body responded with happy kicking and renewed reaching for Misty’s face. Infant, Dad, Therapy Pet and Therapy Pet Handler: all smiling.
Decreasing anxiety through the distraction has long been a recognized and intended outcome of pet therapy (now termed “Animal Assisted Therapy” or AAT). In an interesting paper setting out some history of AAT, Hooker et al traced the incorporation of gardening, courtyard exercise and the presence of animals such as birds and rabbits for therapeutic purposes to the York Retreat for the Insane in 1792 England. Nearly a century later, Florence Nightingale wrote: “A pet bird in a cage is sometimes the only pleasure of an invalid confined for years to the same room...”
Noting that it is impossible to determine when animals began to be used to promote physical and psychological health, the National Institutes of Health convened a workshop on the Health Benefits of Pets in 1987. There, the earliest extensive use of companion animals in the United States was seen to be at an Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital at Pawling, New York, from 1944 to 1945. Patients recovering from war experiences were encouraged to distract themselves through their work at the hospital's farm with its hogs, cattle, horses, and poultry.
The doggie distraction had worked. Baby Girl was distracted and happy. Time for Misty and I to make our way to the Palliative Care Unit. I blew some kisses to the baby and took a step back, pulling on Misty’s leash to signal that she should follow. The effect was immediate: “Ee-yah...ee-yah...ee-yah...”
 Nightingale, F. Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not (London: Harrison, 59, Pall Mall, Bookseller to the Queen) 1860, fn from page 103.
 “The Health Benefits of Pets”. HIH Technology Assess Statement Online 1987 Sep 10-11, at 1.
 Same, at 2.