Fostering Hope for Cancer Survivors and Homeless Pets

Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center’s Fostering Hope program connects survivors and animals needing healing and companionship

(Baton Rouge) Fur-filled unconditional love is being prescribed at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center through the new Fostering Hope program for survivors. Research shows that the human-animal bond is real and benefits are far-reaching, especially for people who have been through a traumatic experience such as cancer. In parternship with the Companion Animal Alliance (CAA), the Cancer Center’s Fostering Hope program is connecting survivors and animals in need of a foster home to complement one another’s lives.

Fostering Hope is an extension of the Cancer Center’s successful pet therapy program offered in conjunction with Tiger H.A.T.S., the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine’s Human Animal Therapy Services program. Pet therapy entails certified dogs visiting patients in the Cancer Center’s treatment environment to provide comfort and relief from stress. Fostering Hope takes pet therapy a step further by providing animal interaction in a survivor’s home while at the same time providing a safe, loving environment for a pet. There is no cost to survivors, thanks to a donation by the Charles Lamar Family Foundation that covers food, veterinary and other expenses. In addition, the eighth grade class of Episcopal School of Baton Rouge has selected Fostering Hope as a service-learning project and is raising funds to sponsor families participating in the program.

“Survivors are often caught off guard by the lingering health challenges and the emotional toll following cancer, and the impact can be severe for family members as well,” said Francinne Lawrence, Ph.D.c., director of survivorship at the Cancer Center. “Research shows that stress and anxiety can be reduced by at least 25 percent through interaction with animals. We’ve seen through pet therapy; it’s more than just a fun experience for the patient and family, the effects are real and lasting. And in the home environment, everyone can benefit.”

Oxytocin, a bonding hormone, is released in humans and pets during mutual interactions and is proven to reduce blood pressure and anxiety while increasing pain tolerance. Other benefits of participating in Fostering Hope include comfort and companionship, emotional and physical healing, lessened feelings of isolation, increased physical activity, improved mood and an enriched life for the animal.

“Fostering is a win-win for both the animal and the cancer survivor,” said  Lily Yap, foster and rescue coordinator at CAA. “When brought into a home environment, shelter animals receive love and training that helps them find their forever families faster. It also benefits the survivor because they can enjoy the health perks of a companion pet relationship without a long-term commitment.”

Survivors wishing to foster an animal are guided through the process by the Cancer Center’s survivorship team in conjunction with CAA professional foster and adoption counselors to ensure a suitable pet is identified. Together, the Cancer Center and CAA have developed clearly defined guidelines for patient health and safety and to ensure compassionate care of the fostered animals. Survivors wishing to participate must receive physician approval and animals must have full health clearance by veterinarians and CAA placement staff. Upon approval, CAA’s fostering coordinator and a Cancer Center oncology nurse provide the survivor and family with a customized orientation.

For more information on Fostering Hope, visit

As a regional destination for cancer care, Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center offers the most advanced technology and services provided by a dedicated team of nationally-recognized oncology experts. The Cancer Center provides best-practice, comprehensive care at every stage of the cancer journey, including disease site-specific multidisciplinary care teams, a robust clinical research program and extensive supportive care services. As a nonprofit organization, donor generosity is essential to sustaining the mission of improving survivorship and lessening the burden of cancer for so many throughout Southeast Louisiana and beyond. For more information on the Cancer Center, and how you can become involved, please visit