KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of the newest employees at East Tennessee Children's Hospital is a four-legged friend whose job is to brighten staffers' and patients' days.
Farley, a golden retriever puppy born in October, is the hospital's first-ever full-time comfort animal. The lovable canine will take on her new job in memory of a patient.
The idea for a dog on staff came from Kristyn Farley, a 16-year-old oncology patient who died last year, said Sue Wilburn, who is vice president of human resources as well as Farley's caretaker and handler. Kristyn had a passion for dogs and wanted greater access to them while she was hospitalized.
A grant from PetSmart Charities helped the hospital get the facility dog, and hospital volunteers set up a fund to cover daily expenses.
Christina Ryskamp, store leader at PetSmart Knoxville in West Town Mall, nominated the hospital to receive the grant.
“For years, our team has worked with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to collect and donate plush toys to bring a smile to the faces of its pediatric patients during the holiday season," she said. "Seeing the reaction of those children inspired us to want to do more."
Therapy Dogs International was founded in 1976 in New Jersey. Since then, its program of dog and handler volunteers has expanded to 50 states and Canada and has more than 25,000 registered teams that visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, hospices and even funeral homes.
More and more of the canines are working full time:
- In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital has Anna, a golden retriever, and Denver, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, The (University of) Michigan Daily reported.
- In Hershey, Pa., Penn State Children's Hospital has Kaia, a golden retriever, according to the Lebanon (Pa.) Daily News.
- In Honolulu, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children has Winnie, a Labrador retriever, KHON-TV, Honololu, reported.
- In Houston, Texas Children's Hospital has Elsa, also a golden retriever, according to KHOU-TV, Houston.
- In Indianapolis, Indiana University Health's Riley Hospital for Children has Roscoe, another golden retriever, WISH-TV, Indianapolis, reported.
And while people think of therapy dogs as beneficial to patients, staff who can step away from their stressful work for even the time it takes for a coffee break come back with renewed energy to help their patients, according to Heather Matthew, a clinical nurse specialist in the Emergency Department at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia who started her medical center's Pet a Pooch program for staffers.
"That animal isn't judging you," Matthew said. "They don't know that maybe you've had to give a family some bad news and your heart is breaking over it."
In Knoxville, Farley isn't working in her position full time yet. For now, she's helping out in the Human Resources Department and soon will begin a six-week puppy training program.
Before she interacts with patients, she'll have to complete another training program, be evaluated for temperament and be at least a year old. She'll primarily be a staff dog but will be available to visit with patients when a volunteer therapy dog isn't available.
Photo: Courtesy of East Tennessee Children's Hospital
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