June 06, 2017 06:08 PM

The connection between the kids and the canines at the annual Best Friends Bash, as 10-year-old Mary Elena explains, is real.

“You don’t have to worry about your appearances or the way you look,” she says in a video taken at the bash on Saturday, where she hung out with Monroe, a dachshund who underwent a full mouth dental extraction. “It’s a bonding thing.”

The annual gathering at Penn Vet’s Hill Pavilion brings together craniofacial patients from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and canine craniofacial patients, in an environment where they can meet, greet, and be inspired by the journeys they share.

Courtesy Penn Vet/John Donges

“You can see all of the different things they’ve gone through that you can relate to,” Mary Elena added. “There was a dog that had surgery for cleft lip and palate and I had surgery for frontonasal dysplasia. It’s just so wonderful and so fun to see these dogs and pet them and learn what they’ve gone through. I always leave being amazed by the dogs. They inspire me.”

Without any words at all, other patients like Dan, from East Torresdale, Pennsylvania, learns from the canines (in attendance that day were Emma, a golden retriever who had surgery to remove a craniofacial tumor, Tarot, a Rhodesian ridgeback who had extensive dental work for a severe overbite, Bosco, a Rottweiler with a skull deformity, Cyrus, a mixed breed pup who was born without front legs, and Vivian, a Staffordshire terrier mix who serves as a Therapy Dog Ambassador for the National Dog Show, among others).

Courtesy Penn Vet/John Donges

“They’re going through the same things as many of us did, but without a care in the world,” 18-year-old Dan said. “They know how to live in the here and the now. It shows me that I’m not alone and reminds me to stay strong.”

This year’s fourth annual event — which featured a performance by The Voice season 7 runner-up Matt McAndrew — gave the attendees a three-hour opportunity to bond.

Courtesy Penn Vet/John Donges

“It’s a way to teach kids resilience and to show them that different is good,” added Dr. Maria Soltero-Rivera, adjunct assistant professor in Dentistry & Oral Surgery at Penn Vet and one of the organizers of the event. “And we’re able to do this in an unspoken language through the kids and the dogs interacting together.”

To learn more about the partnership between Penn Vet and CHOP, and the Best Friends Bash, click here.

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