Because of various health issues, Harley Gould-Kinney, 9, of Lake City has been in and out of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care and Ronald McDonald House Charities Jacksonville.


But she and her mother and sister made a special trip to Wolfson on Friday just to meet two members of Harley’s second favorite bird species — penguins — and attend the local launch of San Diego Zoo Kids Channel.

The closed-circuit adventure television channel allows patients at Wolfson, Nemours and Ronald McDonald House to see and learn about wildlife without leaving their rooms.

Harley viewed the channel during an earlier hospital visit and was thrilled. “It’s so cool; it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’m not able to see animals at the zoo so this makes me feel like I am there. It makes me take my mind off being sick.”

That’s the goal, said Veronica Scott-Fulton, Wolfson vice president of operations and patient services. “We always have in the front of our minds the spirit of our kids. Part of our job is to allay their fears, their anxiety,” she said.

Hospital and Ronald McDonald House staff said they already knew the healing power that therapy animals can have on patients. So the collaboration with the San Diego Zoo and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, which is one of the zoos featured on the channel, was welcomed, she said.

“It is a dream come true for us to have this kind of programming,” said Diane Boyle, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging and other services to families of critically ill and seriously injured children.

San Diego Zoo Kids Channel is a commercial-free, 24-hour-a-day channel that features animals in zoos and aquariums. The channel is in 85 facilities in 27 states and in four countries, according to Debra Erickson, global marketing director for San Diego Zoo.

Denny Sanford, a Sioux Falls, S.D., philanthropist, funded development but asked that it spread worldwide via collaborations with zoos and local donors, Erickson said.

As facilities have signed on, the “healing properties of animals” — even on a television screen — have become evident, she said.

One girl was hospitalized and facing a leg amputation because of infection. She was depressed and would not talk to caregivers or her family. But when the channel came on, she “perked up,” Erickson said. When her leg had to be amputated, the girl said she would be OK because “animals lose their legs all the time and they are okay,” Erickson said.

“I could tell you so many stories about so many kids,” she said.

Plans for the collaboration have been under way for two years, said Jacksonville Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio. The Alfred I. DuPont Foundation sponsored the channel locally, he said.

On Friday, two of the zoo’s Magellanic penquins — C.J. and Sharky — ably represented all the animals featured on the channel, as a contingent of current and past Wolfson, Nemours and Ronald McDonald patients converged around them.

Harley’s favorite bird is the American bald eagle, but she said she was enchanted by the penguins just the same.

“They are amazing,” she said.

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109