Dreamnight at the Zoo is an international event that started at the Rotterdam Zoo in Holland in 1996. It offers a free evening to kids with chronic illnesses or disabilities, allowing them and their families to enjoy time outside and to be with the animals.
Currently, more than 200 zoos, parks and aquariums host this event, which always falls on the first Friday of June. The Edmonton Valley Zoo, in conjunction with the Stollery Children’s Hospital, joined this initiative in 2008. This private evening is filled with animal encounters, crafts, rides, face painting and treats for all to enjoy! It is an incredible opportunity for families to just have a few hours of “normal” time together.
In 2014, the Edmonton Association of Small Animal Veterinarians partnered with the Dreamnight, to host its first “Teddy Bear Hospital”. The Teddy Bear Hospital was created to honour the late Dr. Milton Ness, who was the long-time zoo veterinarian for the Valley Zoo. It offered veterinarians a chance to give back to the community while embodying Dr. Ness’s enthusiasm for teaching, and love for all creatures great and small.
Each child who enters the Teddy Bear Hospital gets to choose a stuffed animal. These stuffies are graciously donated from participating veterinary clinics and from the Stollery. In the past, our clinic has performed nail trims in exchange for stuffies, and currently, we continue to act as a collection depot for St. Albert. Last year over 1500 children participated in the Teddy Bear Hospital, making it a tremendous success!
Once in the hospital, the children enter the world of being veterinarians themselves. They can bandage their stuffed animals, take blood pressures, and give mock injections- all procedures that many of these children have endured themselves. All supplies are donated from participating veterinary clinics. There is a large stuffed animal, hooked up to IV fluids, that is used for “surgery”. The children can put on a surgical cap, mask, gloves and gown to do a mock surgery. The ultimate goal is to find candy/chocolates inside the abdomen! This activity is not meant for those with weak stomachs!
I am proud to have volunteered at the Teddy Bear Hospital since its inaugural year. There is no greater reward outside of the clinic, then using my veterinary skills to help families escape into a much needed temporary Dreamland.
Donations of new stuffed animals are welcome anytime and can be dropped off at the Mission Ridge Animal Hospital.
Written by Katherine Takacs, DVM