Professor is more than just a therapy dog.
In fact, in the 1.5 years he's been working at Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's hospital, he has become a VIP employee.
Professor, whose full name is Professor Bunsen Honeydew, is a 3-year-old golden doodle and the first of the two facility dogs to arrive at Kravis. A three year grant of $350,000 from PetSmart Charities covers everything from veterinary care, grooming, food, trainers, Ubers, and the salary of the certified child life specialist he's paired with.
Shortly after he arrived in March 2017, the hospital realized that one dog wasn't going to be enough. So they procured Amos, another golden doodle, shortly afterwards. They're both part of the Paws and Play program in Karvis' Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department.
The main goal of child life is to facilitate psychosocial adjustment to hospitalization and illness. Kravis employs specialists in the ER, clinic, radiology wing, and inpatient units–which includes an intensive care unit. The specialists engage patients and their families in a variety of therapies and stress-reducing activities to decrease trauma and pain, and increase coping.
The largest children's hospitals have been creating facility dog programs for the past 10 years, and Kravis was the first hospital in the New York metropolitan area to adopt this, according to Morgan Stojanowski, assistant director of the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department.
Richard Schack, 65, has volunteered with his schnoodle Leia at Mount Sinai's Union Square location for over 8 years. He was part of a study funded by Pfizer Animal Health in 2015 that showed the positive effects therapy dogs had on patients' emotional and social well being.
"You made my day, Leia," 65-year-old patient Yolanda Fajardo said as she scooped the tiny dog onto her lap. Fajardo loves getting visits from Leia while she's waiting to receive cancer treatment. "I took a picture of Leia, and someone asked if she was my dog and I said yes, basically."
Leia is certified and insured by the Good Dog Foundation, and to ensure that she's clean and safe for patients, she gets a bath the night before visiting the hospital.
Schack and Leia visit every Wednesday for a couple of hours, during which they make rounds in the radiology waiting room, chemotherapy suite, and administrative staff offices. During these years, Leia has become a fabric of the staff, and her presence has made such an impact that some patients have changed their treatment schedules just so they can see her, said Alison Snow, assistant director of cancer supportive services at Mount Sinai Union Square. Mount Sinai has their own health clearance and screening process, and volunteering is a huge commitment that don't always fit with most schedules.
"They carry business cards, they have a badge," Rode said. "They're going to rooms where there's been a referral request, with a specific goal."
Facility dogs like Professor and Amos are embedded into personalized treatment and recovery plans for patients and families at Kravis. All the doctors at Kravis carry with them a referral card for the services of Professor and Amos. They can provide procedural support, comfort and pain management, encouragement to walk, play opportunities, and family support.
A child-life specialist assesses the needs of the patient, the caregiver and the family, and designs a concrete clinical intervention with the facility dog to meet that need.
The dogs can encourage patients get out of bed or to walk on their own in order to be safely discharged from the hospital. They also create a relaxing environment for patients to process and discuss their experiences.
It's about making hard, challenging things feel more doable, said Stojanowski.
"We have little tricks they know how to do like brushing their teeth. Because the kid has to brush their teeth, but they're not doing it. So we make it a game that they're teaching Professor," said Stojanowski. "Professor and Amos know how to get their teeth brushed, you say open, and they'll open."
There's also a syringe with colored water, and the kids pretend it's medicine for the dogs. They'll give the dogs their 'medicine' and that will help them take their own medicine. The dogs also know simpler tricks like high five, take a bow, and 'chill', where they lay on their side.
These are all humanizing things that for a child who has been depressed and disempowered by trauma and illness, said Rode. Small things like this can really relocate a position of control and power for them.
The dogs have also been trained practically to respond to quick signals like getting off the bed in the event of a medical emergency.
He works on Spike’s schedule, from Monday to Friday, 9-5, with nap breaks throughout the day. One hour a day, from 2-3pm, Professor goes with his secondary handler to visit patients at the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
On Mondays, Professor also attends the pediatric medical rounds from 1-2pm.
He’s also a part of certain physical therapy routines, so he does a lot of inpatient support too, including end-of-life support for patients who were close with him.
Professor sees between 8-12 patients a day, and sometimes as much as 15-16 patients when there's a special event.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday are usually oncology days, which are more active since he visits a lot of patients undergoing chemotherapy then. Fridays are fancy, so he wears a bow tie to work.
Tuesday and Thursday are usually hematology days, and Professor does a lot of lying in bed with patients to help with pain management during blood draws and other procedures. Then, he'll stay with them until the pain medications kick in.
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