The Youth and Pet Survivors Program™ (YAPS™) was created in 2001 by pediatric cancer nurse Anne Ingalls Gillespie. YAPS is a pioneer program and novel form of virtual animal-assisted therapy.
YAPS is a pen pal program designed for children and adolescents with cancer to engage in virtual visits with a dog or a cat ( who has also been treated for cancer or serious medical illness) through letter writing and pictures. Pet owners assume the personality and voice of their pet when corresponding with a child. YAPS has connected over 200 children and pets as pen pals.
Findings of a study with YAPS participants (Gillespie & Neu, 2020) suggest that the YAPS letter writing program can provide a source of fun and a way to process the cancer experience with a dog or cat pen pal who has also faced cancer or serious medical treatment.
"My dog pen pal has a lot in common with me. We both have osteosarcoma, and he's gone through the same thing I have, he even got some of the same chemotherapies" (girl in YAPS).
"Every time I see a letter in the mail from my dog pen pal, I'm really happy and I can't wait to read it. I open it as soon as I get it" (boy in YAPS ).
We are committed to expanding the reach and scope of YAPS as a virtual animal-assisted therapy program that may serve patients around the globe, beyond the single hospital in which YAPS has operated.
More evidence is needed to understand how and why writing letters to an animal pen pal influences quality of life in children with cancer. The founder of YAPS, Anne Gillespie, is doing more research on this topic as part of her PhD dissertation.
For more information please contact:
Anne Ingalls Gillespie, MSN, RN
Founder and President
Youth and Pet Survivors™ firstname.lastname@example.org