At M Health Fairview’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIBD), some patients can now touch a dog while on site. This dog, though, is doing more than simply touching them back; she is touching countless lives.
Facility Dog Jersey joined Child Life Specialists Cala and Ann at MIBD early in 2023. “She’s just a blessing,” says Cala. Not only can Jersey perform retrieving, snuggling, and “visiting” (lying her head on a lap) skills on command, she also engages in “medical play.” One example is how she shows young patients—using a mock MRI scanner—what a real MRI is like. The child can rehearse how to have a scan done with the comfort of Jersey’s soft presence. Cala notes that Jersey “relieves a lot of stress for patients when they’re here.”
Jersey clearly likes being around the patients as well. Cala explains, “I have an office on the second floor, and the first floor is where we get to interact with kids. Jersey knows when she goes up the stairs that she doesn’t get to see kids, so she’ll put her brakes on when we start to go up the stairs because she wants to stay downstairs.”
Whether braking or not, Jersey “brings such a positive sense to the environment,” says Ann. “It’s just been so eye-opening to see what I can achieve with her as a tool with patients and families. I’m able to establish rapport with families so much quicker than if it were just me by myself.”
Jersey offers the ideal distraction for one child in particular who regularly needs his blood pressure checked at MIBD. Ann states, “Without Jersey, he becomes so anxious that the doctors can’t get an accurate reading.” Simply with the assurance of Jersey by his side, medical staff can check him and adjust his medications as needed. “Seeing the therapeutic value that Jersey brings to our interactions is indescribable,” adds Ann.
Life is not all work and no play, even for this diligent dog. Jersey goes home with Cala most evenings and her personality blends in perfectly with the three teenagers that Cala and her husband are raising. Cala is even learning an important lesson from Jersey: to make time for playfulness. “Our work is emotionally difficult work in a lot of ways,” she says. Yet, when she sees Jersey being able to quickly decompress with some laps around the backyard, “It’s a good reminder to have fun.”
Ann and her family relish Jersey’s fun-loving spirit too. They recently hosted Jersey while Cala was on vacation for “12 sleeps,” as Ann’s 5-year-old daughter with autism describes. Having another dog of their own, Ann relayed that every evening felt like she was leading a dog parade, with both dogs trailing behind her throughout the house.
Both women share how impressed they have been with the process of integrating Jersey into their lives and work. Ann comments on the numerous ways the dogs are socialized, saying, “I had no idea the depth of the program until I was immersed in it.” Cala attests, [Client Services Manager] “Denise has been amazing,” With her “You got this!” affirmations, Denise found the right blend of challenging them and encouraging them. Plus, when they see Jersey’s excitement whenever she sees Denise, Cala says, “It’s such a testament to the work [Can Do Canines does] and the love that [these dogs] feel.”
Though they both admit they still have a lot to learn about what they will be able to accomplish with Jersey, Ann says, “We’ve only just begun. Just being able to imagine all the things and the many people she will touch is really cool to think about.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Whelping Home — Dana and Pete Kittok
Raisers — Karey Borowicz, Mary Rae Joseph, Gina and Pat McGraw, The Rimstad Family
Special Thanks — Jackson Correctional Institution