Crowds gathered in the Harman Gardens of the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center on Tuesday lunchtime to enjoy a “fashion show” complete with runway where the stars were therapy animals dressed in Taylor Swift-inspired attire, each one reflecting a different period of the artist’s music.
While many who had come to enjoy the spectacle in the glorious sunshine were hospital employees, the guests of honor were really hospitalized and critically ill children and adults. The animals are a part of UCLA Health’s People-Animal Connection program, an initiative to provide smiles and companionship through a variety of programs.
“We look for every opportunity that we can to bring our pet therapy team out in costume,” laughs Johnese Spisso, President, UCLA Health. “And when they heard Taylor Swift was coming to town, the pet therapists really wanted to bring some of her festivities to our children at the Mattel Children’s Hospital [in Westwood] and it proved so popular we brought it here.”
“The objective here is to bring the Eras Tour to the patients that can’t go to the show, we’re just trying to bring a little piece of that joy,” said Jennifer Dobkin, Manager at UCLA People-Animal Connection. “Johnese came to us with an idea a few weeks back about bringing Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour to the hospital and if you know anything about our program we’ll do anything to dress a dog up.
“We specifically did this event just for the Eras Tour, but throughout the year, we tried to do things for the pediatric units just to bring any sort of joy. Pretty much any holiday that comes up, we try to make it extra special by bringing the dogs on Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, anything that you can imagine, we try to bring as much joy with the animals as possible.”
Spisso said that as a result of the generous support from donors, the patients will be given licensed Taylor Swift merchandise including t-shirts and friendship bracelets.
“We routinely ask patients to rate their hospitalization or their clinic visit. And we do find whenever a pet is involved, there’s some great positive comments and feedback. We also find particularly in our children’s hospital that the pets are a great source of relaxation for the children, giving them a break from their many intense treatments and providing some reassurance and comfort,” Spisso said.
The Animal Connection program means that any number of animals, most often dogs, are at the hospital at any given time, so a patient can request one should they feel for some canine company.