Kids at hospital will be able to ‘play’ with shelter pets via interactive camera

June 8, 2015

Sunshine, left, and Smiles, 7-week-old Brittany spaniel mix puppies, play at the Wright-Way Rescue Connect Us room on May 28, 2015 in Morton Grove, Ill. Kids can watch dogs play at a shelter through a new web cam program.

CHICAGO — Children at a Chicago hospital soon will be able to play with puppies and kittens at an animal shelter without leaving their rooms.

Wright-Way Rescue animal shelter set up a camera system in a playroom at its new adoption center in suburban Morton Grove so children can engage with pets virtually from their hospital beds, said Lisa Aiken, director of development at the no-kill shelter

Since the beginning of the year, children at Lurie Children’s Hospital, in downtown Chicago, have been able to watch the animals play throughout the day via a stream that can be seen on their rooms’ television monitors, according to Susan Ruohonen, the hospital’s director of children’s services.

"It really was amazing how popular it became almost immediately," Ruohonen said. "It’s sort of a day in the life of puppies and to be able to experience that in real time is really a unique opportunity."

The interactive portion will be set up at the hospital as soon as coding issues can be worked out, Ruohonen and Aiken said. Until then, the interactive portion is available online to the public, Aiken said.

Anyone can watch the animals live on Wright-Way’s site. Above the feed, a link labeled, "Come play with us!" leads to a site with an interactive feature that controls a camera in the room and activates one of three devices, a machine that shoots peanut butter-flavored bubbles, a tail that wags or a long rope hanging in the middle of the room that spins. The hospital will have a separate link once it is up and running.

Each visitor has two minutes to engage the devices in the room after clicking a button to queue on the site.

A hospital in Florida created a similar interactive playtime, but Wright-Way is hoping to expand to hospitals across the United States. The children at other hospitals would have a separate link, Aiken said, but they would wait for their turn to interact with the animals alongside children at Lurie.

"We kind of feel like we’re rescuing both the children and the animals at the same time," Aiken said. "They both have challenges in their lives."

Discussions to launch the program and build the room came after a bus ran into the shelter’s Niles facility in October 2013. The video camera system was set up through a grant by LinkedIn for Good shortly after the shelter opened its new facility in September 2014.

The shelter, which takes in an average of about 75 adoptable cats and dogs per week, hopes that as children and the public play with the dogs, they fall in love with them and adopt.

"We already had someone come in that saw the video from the hospital bed and adopted a dog from a facility," Aiken said.




McClatchy-Tribune Information Services