One smile is a great victory

We are dedicated to making the lives of children better through the power and blessing of Animal-Assisted Therapy. Our mission is to bring joy, comfort and compassion to those in need, and encourage well-being of hospitalized children with acute or chronic diseases thru the joy of receiving a gift from a four legged friend.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics to become a fundamental part of a person's treatment. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, cognitive, and/or emotional functioning of the patient, as well as provide motivational benefits.

Lucky, the Furry Co-Founder:

"One smile is a great victory" That is our motto. However, we have found that we are able to bring something different to the table to help others in need by bringing in the help of man's best friend. Lucky’s, a beautiful black Labrador Retriever rescue dog, personality is sweet and gentle. She lets children play with her as much as they want, even letting them play with her toes (something that would normally bother her at home!) Apart from visiting children at the hospital, Lucky loves going to the lake to swim. She loves watching TV so she can wait for any animal to appear on the screen, for she believes that they area actually in the room with her! She barks playfully at the screen, while the other dogs and humans watch and ponder at why she reacts this way. She can't resist the urge to play and befriend her other furry friends. 

 

Unfortunately, Lucky's story did not start out as happy as her life is today. Dayana found her when she was a complete mess. She was dirty, malnourished, with skin and eye problems. No matter her condition, Dayana felt in her heart that the right thing to do would be to rescue her and bring her home. Shortly after being rescued, Dayana saw Lucky’s potential to help others. When Dayana brought home Lucky, she initially thought she was rescuing a dog to have as a pet; however, what she did not realize is that Lucky was about to change her life forever by giving Dayana the biggest mission of all, to help others through her.

 

With patience, Dayana trained Lucky. Or better yet Lucky, with lots of patience, trained Dayana, and they soon became an unforgettableand unstoppable team.

In 2007 Lucky and Dayana officially registered with the Delta Society in Florida, USA. Lucky became a certified therapy dog, bearing joy and gifts to people with disabilities and patients with acute or chronic diseases (and even those with the common cold, too).

 

In 2009, after volunteering for more than nine years, Dayana thought it was time for Lucky to retire so she could have a more relaxed life because she was getting older (11 years old at the time).  However, it seemed that Lucky did not want to stop visiting patients.  After a few weeks of not taking Lucky to the hospital and taking Mocca (Dayana's other therapy dog) instead, Luckybecame depressed and stopped eating. She stopped going to the bathroom as often and didn’t allow Dayana to pet her.  Dayana had no option but to resume Lucky’s volunteering activities by visiting hospitalized children. Lucky knows that her life's mission is to help others, and she would not allow her age to stop her.  Dayana sees Lucky as a connection between animals and humans. Children who are hospitalized are not able to play outdoors with pets, and that’s where we come in. We bring these furry friends to the child’s bedside.

Dayana, the Co-Founder:

Co-founder Dayana Susterman was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She finished her Marine Biology degree in 2006, and in 2008 graduated from the School of Education in Recreational Therapy from Florida International University, Miami.

From a young age, Dayana loved animals and children. Because she couldn’t bring home all the animals that she wanted, Dayana started volunteering for various organizations including zoos, a wildlife care center and hospital, a safari, and veterinarian clinics. At age 17 and without consent from her parents, Dayana made her first rescue who was Lucky, a nine-month stray Labrador Retriever she rescued from a construction site. Through Lucky, Dayana was able to combine her two main passions in life: kids and pets. In her eyes, she is the “lucky” one to have this loving lab come into her life, giving her the best mission that she can have in the world: to help others.

Dayana’s passion for children with special needs unfolded when she was a young 11-year-old and her cousin Aaron was born. Aaron was her inspiration and responsible for her interest in helping others. When Aaron was 5 months old, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Cri du Chat syndrome, also known as chromosome 5p deletion syndrome, 5p minus syndrome, or Lejeune’s syndrome, which is due to a missing part of chromosome 5.  The name, in French, means cat cry or call of the cat, and refers to the sound made of the infant’s cry. Only 50 percent of people with this disorder develop sufficient verbal skills to communicate their needs. Unfortunately that’s not the case with Aaron. He does not know how to communicate orally nor with sign language.

Getting to know Aaron and watching him take pride in the smallest of accomplishments inspired Dayana’s passion for working with kids. When Dayana used to help feed and dressing him, she would think, “His soul is so elevated that he can’t see the bad in the world.” And later Dayana come to realize that Aaron was in her life so that she could learn from him and be a better person — and, to prepare for what was to become her mission in life.

Is it part of Aaron’s mission to help Dayana help others? Is it part of Aaron’s mission to teach others about becoming better people and accepting those with special needs? Is it part of his mission to teach others about not being scared of people who look like him, and not to be afraid of the unknown? That is not known. But one thing Dayana knows is that she wanted to acknowledge him and, all of his teachings.

Today, Lucky and Dayana are an amazing and dynamic team, logging in more than 20,000 hospital service hours (as of May 2011). They have improved the lives of children and their families who are in less-fortunate situations through improving the physical, social, cognitive, and/or emotional functioning of the patient,

Dayana’s second rescue is a retriever named Mocca, who was adopted from the Humane Society of Greater Miami in 2008. Mocca is also registered with the Delta Society and is one of Lucky’s special messengers.

Our Story

The first gift that Lucky delivered was unplanned. Lucky and Dayana were visiting a child in a South Florida hospital when a 5-year-old girl receiving chemotherapy treatment said out loud to Lucky, “Tomorrow is my birthday and I wish my parents had money to buy me a toy.” Dayana overheard the little girl and thought it would be a great idea if  Lucky brought her a birthday gift.. The next morning, Lucky and Dayana visited the hospital with balloons and a Barbie doll to celebrate the little girl’s big day. The doll was an inexpensive gift; nonetheless the most rewarding gift Dayana and Lucky had ever given. The gratitude and expression on the girl’s face was priceless. Since that day Lucky, Mocca and Dayana have continued to deliver gifts and love to hospitalized children.

One day after delivering the first gift to a little girl, Dayana dreamt about creating an organization and naming it Lucky4Kids. The day following the dream, Dayana started working on the project and with Lucky’s help, the duo started delivering gifts to children in South Florida hospitals. The goal is to create a foundation that contributes gifts to hospitalized children in the U.S. and around the world.

 

We rely on donations to operate our non-profit organization. We appreciate your support!

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Lucky4Kids® is a registered 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization incorporated, registered in Florida.
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