Prisma’s FETCH facility dogs bring their own “medicine” in difficult situations

For almost anyone, a trip to the hospital can be a scary and stressful ordeal, but a team of professionals dedicated to Prisma Health help make this experience a whole lot less scary.

The members of this team are not defined by an exhaustive list of specialized medical training and degrees, but rather are known by their kind eyes, wet noses and soft fur.

Photos by Jack Robert Photography

canine compassion

by Prisma Canine FETCH Unit (Friends Encouraging Therapeutic Coping and Healing) has been making sure “the hard parts aren’t so hard” for patients and staff since 2016, according to unit coordinator Katelyn Leitner.

Unlike other service dogs trained to assist a specific individual, Prisma’s facility dogs are chosen, in part, for their gregarious nature and social adaptability to work in a variety of environments and situations and to meet the needs of patients facing a range. of procedures treating a wide variety of health conditions, says Leitner.

In addition to being the unit coordinator, Leitner is a handler who is partnered with Kalle, a 7-year-old golden retriever-Labrador mix, whose gentle nature and easily shared affection bring another kind of healing. to patients and staff.

Leitner and Kalle are most often found in the inpatient units of the children’s hospital or visit patients on the pediatric floors and in the hematology/oncology unit. In this role, Kalle and the other dogs at the facility help children and their families through some of the most stressful situations, like blood draws or IVs or through long and sometimes noisy tests like EEGs or MRI.

Leitner says one of her and Kalle’s most important roles is helping patients feel safe. Additionally, showering Kalle or one of her canine colleagues with affection can often reduce a patient’s anxiety by giving them something much warmer and furry to focus on.

“When I meet kids, I say my job is to make sure the hard parts aren’t so hard,” says Leitner.

For Dr. Robin LaCroix, medical director of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital, the work of the Canine FETCH unit is a material benefit to improving outcomes.

Dogs “bring a certain sense of normalcy when nothing looks, sounds, or feels normal” is hugely beneficial, LaCroix says.

Therapy dog ​​with doctor
Dr. Robin LaCroix, Medical Director of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.

A special link

Jovi Bull can attest to the incredible impact the facility’s dogs have on the patients they work with. Bull’s 9-year-old daughter, Caroline, has had to deal with an overwhelming number of tests and procedures for years to deal with an ongoing variety of health issues.

Vivitar (Vivi), the goldendoodle who was the first dog in the FETCH Canine Unit, helped Caroline through many of these procedures.

Bull says that as a lifelong dog, his daughter’s bond with Vivi was immediate when they first met in 2017.

“It was love at first sight,” she says. “There was just this incredible bond – I can’t explain it.”

Because Caroline had to undergo so many different tests and procedures and was frequently in units or facilities where Vivi did not work or could not go, a nurse gave Caroline a “Vivi” plush toy with the emblematic green vest of the entire establishment. dogs. Bull says the toy helped her daughter through many situations where the real Vivi couldn’t be with her, and it made everything easier.

This toy has risen to prominence now after Vivi herself lost her battle with cancer earlier this month. Bull and his daughter, along with countless other patients, their families and hospital staff are part of an outpouring of love and grief to honour Vivi.

“She wasn’t just a dog…she was so much more than that,” Bull said. “She was a precious soul. She was an angel.

Bull says that although her family misses Vivi desperately, they know that the FETCH dogs and their handlers will continue Vivi’s legacy of love and compassion in helping patients and their families on the road to recovery.

“They are a medicine in their own right,” she says.

Discover the Canine FETCH unit:

  • Kalle is a 7-year-old golden retriever-Labrador mix who works primarily on the inpatient units of Children’s Hospital and on the pediatric floors and the hematology/oncology unit. Her favorite toy is a blue and pink tie-dye ball.
  • King is a 6-year-old flat-coated/golden retriever-Labrador mix who works primarily in pediatric supportive care. His favorite toy is Sammy the squirrel.
  • Cookie is a yellow Labrador whose favorite toy is a Kong filled with peanut butter.
  • Bo is a Portuguese Water Dog whose favorite activity outside of work is swimming with his master.
  • Beowulf is a golden retriever whose favorite movie is “Singing in the Rain”.
  • Bunny is a golden retriever who loves romantic comedies and driving cars with all the windows down.
Unit Coordinator Katelyn Leitner

Institutional dog training

  • Prisma Health FETCH Canine Unit dogs are trained for up to two years and begin training when they are just a few weeks old.
  • Dogs are trained either by Canine helpers in Milton, Georgia, or by The Service Dog Institute in Simpsonville.
  • Breeds chosen for training include Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Golden Doodles or mixes of these breeds.

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