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‘Sadie’s in the house’ – new therapy dog joins hospital staff

Posted on: 06.27.2018 at 07:00 a.m.

By Margaret High

Andrea West arrived to her desk in the human resources department of Columbus Regional Healthcare System and typed up an email: “Sadie’s in the house.”

Sadie is West’s dog, a new hire at the hospital. Sadie is a therapy dog, meaning she navigates the expanse of the hospital and uses her calming demeanor to soothe patients.

“She just has such a calming effect on people,” West said.

Sadie doesn’t bark, bite, or get excited unless there is bacon around. It’s her laid-back personality that precedes her at the hospital.

As she walks through the hallways of CRHS, her red vest reading “Therapy dog” stands out against her black fur. Workers and patients call out to her, and Sadie responds to each coo.

“I thought it was a service that the patients and the employees would really benefit from,” West said. “And they just love her. When I go around the hospital, people stop me and ask if Sadie is here.”

Nurses and other employees at the hospital parade Sadie around, reducing blood pressure everywhere she goes, as West stays and works in her office. West sends out the email to specialty care departments, notifying those who want to utilize Sadie.

Sadie regularly visits physical therapy. The physical therapists love taking Sadie in, sometimes getting confused as her owners instead of West.

“She walks in the gym and the energy instantly goes up,” Garrett Tolley, the cardio and pulmonary rehab coordinator, said. “Everyone wants to see her, everybody calls her name, everybody asks about her. Patients miss her when she’s not around.”

When the door opens into physical therapy and the jingle from her collar becomes audible to patients, they all lift their heads. Wide smiles spread from patient to patient as they look adoringly at the boxer, black lab, and Great Dane mix. Her white and black face scans the room unassumingly, picking up on all the patient’s non-verbal queues.

“If a patient is having a bad day, or a patient is a little bit distressed, she’s very keen in that regard,” Tolley said.

One day, Sadie walked into the room and went over to a patient without prompting. Immediately, the patient wrapped their arms around Sadie and started crying.

“(The patient) said, ‘You don’t know how much I needed this today,’” West said.

As Sadie sits on the carpeted floor in physical therapy, she oozes tranquility. There’s no panting, drooling, fidgeting, or any other sign of excess energy. Sadie does her job, allowing patients to pat her head and feed off her calming presence.

“The staff gets as much benefit out of her as the patients do,” Tolley said. “She really has done wonders for the staff.”

The red vest finds itself sitting under West’s feet as she attends leadership meetings for the hospital. Workers take turns petting Sadie’s head before opening up packets of information on hospital policy.

Sadie is also used as a teaching tool around the hospital.

“I walk down the hall with her and some of the workers are afraid of her because they were taught to be afraid of dogs,” said Nancy Barden, a physical therapist. “I’ll stop and talk to them and say you don’t need to be afraid of this dog, she’s a good dog.”

The training opportunity has already shown progress within the hospital, despite Sadie’s short two-month employment.

Jeremy Simmons, the resident chaplain at CRHS, said Sadie is helping him overcome his fear of dogs. The two usually spend a lot of time in the Donayre Cancer Center, forcing Simmons to stick around her, despite initially wanting to run the other direction.

“She’s so calm, she’s helped me overcome my fears,” Simmons said.

Simmons has progressed from staying on the opposite side of the room to leading her around the Cancer Center to talk with patients.

Sadie is a welcome distraction to those receiving chemotherapy treatment. Her warm brown eyes and wagging tail help patients escape the confines of heart monitors and I.V. drips.  She reminds them to be happy again.

“A hospital is very dehumanizing,” Tolley said. “Sadie kind of re-humanizes a very dehumanized environment. It’s not as cold and calculating; she makes it very warm.”

It took two years of training for Sadie to develop her skills, but her natural disposition led her to the job. West said the only time Sadie gets worked up is in the mornings before Sadie gets to the hospital.

West will ask Sadie before leaving if she wants to go to work. Sometimes Sadie wants to take a vacation day, but most of the time she goes to the back door and waits for West to pick up her work vest.

The therapy dog program at CRHS is just getting started with Sadie. West says they’re hoping to continue to grow the program, allowing for more regular visits from a variety of dogs, especially at the cancer center.

Typically, therapy dogs come with volunteers, not employees. Having volunteer dogs would help CRHS staff to continue with their normal flow of work and still provide an invaluable service.

At the end of the day, Sadie hangs up her red vest like any other worker. She eats some dinner, curls up in her dog bed and calls it a day. She’s tired from doing what only she does best: bring happiness.

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