Toledo Children's Hospital went to the dogs Saturday.
That's because a delegation of Sons of the American Legion paid a visit to distribute 32 cuddly, stuffed canines to ailing children.
The dogs, called "Josh Dogs," actually were part of a kit that included a little dog house for the pooch and an illustrated book, I'll Be O.K.
They were a big hit with the kids and with hospital personnel.
"I'm going to sleep with him," said Stratyn Speiser, 10, of Morenci, who was being treated for migraines, as he gave his Josh Dog a hug.
"This is the best dog ever," proclaimed Audrey Crawford, 7, of Sylvania from her hospital bed. She was being treated for asthma. "I like it. It's so cuddly. It's really fun."
Matthew Flis, 12 of Carleton, Mich., said he was suffering from abdominal pains and not feeling well. But the Josh Dog would be a welcome addition to his room back home. "I'll put it on my dresser or my nightstand," he said.
His mother, Pam Flis, said the dog was much appreciated.
"I think this is wonderful. It makes the kids feel so special. I have no words …" she said.
Justin Anderson, 10, who is almost recovered from brain surgery, said his Josh Dog looked a lot like Smokey, his dog at home. "I'm going to snuggle with him," the Swanton Township boy said.
The Josh Dog was the brainchild of a Tennessee veterinarian who modeled and named it after his own family's beloved golden retriever. The companion illustrated book written by the vet, Dr. Randy Lange, is intended to temper a child's fear of entering the hospital, and is written from the fun-loving golden retriever's point of view.
Dr. Lange was inspired to develop the Josh Dog kit by his own daughter's fear of surgery.
Denise Sawan, child life specialist at the children's hospital, believes the Josh Dogs were a real morale booster for sick kids.
"It's just wonderful to see so many kids happy and smiling," she said after the stuffed animals were distributed.
The distribution itself was the idea of Doug Hancock, commander of Maumee Post 320 Sons of the American Legion.
He heard about Josh Dogs at an American Legion convention in Tennessee and organized several area posts in the effort, including posts from Napoleon, Ridgeville Corners, and Ottawa. In December, the legionnaires distributed Josh Dogs to children at Mercy Children's Hospital.
"Real dogs are often used for therapy, and these Josh Dogs are too," Mr. Hancock explained.
The Josh Dog kit costs $39.95 at joshandfriends.com, but the legionnaires were able to buy them for $35 each.
Assisting children is a popular mission of the Sons of the American Legion, Mr. Hancock noted.
The group is the largest contributor to the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, having raised $4 million so far.
Alexa Wegman, 14, said she had two reasons to be happy yesterday: her Josh Dog and the fact that she was about to be discharged after spending two weeks in the hospital for neurological work-ups, including two spinal taps.
"It's really great that they do this," the Northwood girl said. "I'm feeling so much better now."
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