Kids find comfort in four-legged dental assistants

Columbia River Pet Partners therapy animal teams regularly visit schools, libraries, businesses, assisted-living homes, hospitals and hospices. But one handler and her two Tibetan Spaniels are doign something unique. Cathy Tramaglini, along with her dogs Kyi and Tia, visit pediatric dental offices to help young patients through “scary” procedures.

Since 2010, Kyi and Tia have been easing the fears of children at Adventure Dental and DeLuna Kids Dental in Vancouver, and Dr. Pike Dentistry for Children in Portland. The doctors want a visit to their office to be as positive an experience as possible, and so sometimes the work begins in the waiting room. But the real action takes place in the dental chair.

Fear leads to stress, and stress leads to increased heart rate and overproduction of stress hormones. That leads to a squirming child, making dental procedures a challenge. But as a child gently strokes a warm dog lying still upon them, the symptoms of stress melt away to the power of the human-animal bond.

“When Kyi and Tia sense fear or tension returning, they often crawl a bit farther up on the child’s chest, reinforcing their presence and its soothing effect,” Cathy said.

Dental staff and parents alike appreciate the way Cathy and her dogs are able to calm fears and keep children still in the dental chair. But their greatest achievement is that they make it possible to treat children in the dentist’s office who would otherwise be so frightened that they would have to undergo general anesthesia in a hospital to get their dental work done.

Cathy’s work in pediatric dental offices has been such a hit that some parents schedule their children’s visits when they know Kyi and Tia are available. The teams visit Dr. DeLuna’s office every week and the other two offices twice a month each.

Cathy and her dogs started their dental visits when Dr. Pike contacted Pet Partners asking for a team. His previous dental assistant had brought her dog in regularly, and when she moved away, the young patients missed having a dog in the office. It turned out that Cathy’s small dogs were ideal because they can cuddle with children during procedures.

Cathy and her dogs are among some 170 active Columbia River Pet Partners teams who are touching lives and improving health throughout the greater Portland area. For information visit

~ Peter Christensen