Santa gives the reindeer a few months off every year, so inevitably they’re going to cause trouble.

A health board inquiry is under way after a young reindeer was taken into a Glasgow Children’s Hospital and allowed to interact with patients. The reindeer fawn, from a local reindeer farm, was paraded around the hospital grounds as part of an organized event. That’s great. The kids could see something unique. However, the problem occurred when a staff member decided to take the fawn inside so more young patients could see it. By doing that, the fawn was turned into a "therapy animal," meaning all the various recommended precautions for a therapy pet should apply (including a prohibition on bringing farm animals into a hospital).

It essence, good intentions + lack of critical thought + lack of clear local guidelines lead to this situation, which has caused an outcry amongst some groups (and probably a similar "so what?" amongst others).

Here are some interesting bits from the article:

"It had been checked by a vet…"

  • Okay, good start, but for what was is checked? You can’t tell what infectious agents an animal carries by looking at it. We know that young animals are more likely to shed various potentially harmful microorganisms, and deer can be sources of very harmful bacteria like E. coli O157.

 "It is understood that the patients who did pet the fawn were later given antiseptic wipes with which to clean their hands."

  • I wonder what "later" means. I suspect it wasn’t right after animal contact.

“I don’t suppose any animal, no matter how well shampooed and clean it was, should be allowed into a hospital without prior knowledge and the correct arrangements made,” [Dr. Jean Turner of the Scotland Patients’ Association] said.

  • A reasonable statement. She’s not saying "no animals," she’s saying "no animals without a proper plan."

"I think it was well-intentioned, but I don’t think anyone was thinking about the consequences of taking a live animal like that to a hospital.”

  • That sums it up nicely.

Every animal (and person) is carrying multiple microorganisms that could make someone else sick. Usually that doesn’t happen, and we need to live life, not stay locked up in our bedrooms. However, some animals are at higher risk of shedding pathogens (e.g. young animals, farm animals), some situations make it more likely that an individual animal will contaminate the environment of patients (e.g. interacting with a farm animal, taking a non-house-trained animal inside) and some people are at much higher risk of serious disease when they encounter various bugs (e.g. hospitalized kids).

I’m sure some kids had a great time, and the overall risk was probably low. However, was there really any benefit here beyond a properly run pet visitation program with appropriate animals, established protocols, good hygiene practices and proper handler training?

Pet therapy programs are too important to be compromised by illogical events like this that sometimes cause a knee-jerk "no animals in the hospital" response. That’s why there are good international pet visitation guidelines and why people need to follow them.