Therapy dog helps to ease hospital visits for children

Most parents know that any medical procedure from a flu shot to something more complicated can strike fear in the heart of a child. The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has a new staff member to help with that.

 

Nugget is a 2-year-old golden retriever trained to help young patients cope with minor and major procedures. Child Life Specialist and Nugget’s “dog mom,” Harleigh Turner, said the new addition to the hospital is a great coping tool for a child. From snuggling and popping bubbles with her nose to putting an anesthesia mask over the pup’s face to show a child that it will not hurt them, Nugget offers something hospital staff members are unable to do.

“While my words can be comforting, she brings that touch component to the team,” Turner said.

Another benefit is Nugget’s ability to pick up on what human beings may not be able to sense. Similar to service dogs who are able to sense anxiety in their handlers, Turner said she believes Nugget can sense that in a child.

“A child that based on my childlife assessment would be a little more anxious … those are the ones she’s swirled up in their lap with,” Turner said. “It’s really fascinating to see.”

Nugget came to the hospital through Canine Assistants, a program designed to train service dogs. Her parents were selected as a good pair to breed to create service dogs. All of her siblings are also service dogs.

Because of her petite size and temperament, Nugget was deemed a good candidate for a facility dog. After exposing Nugget to hospitals in Atlanta, she was brought to Augusta and became familiar with her new home at the Children’s Hospital.

Turner cares for Nugget at the hospital and at her home. Turner bathes Nugget once a week at her home and maintains her grooming daily. In the event that Turner goes on vacation, Child Life Specialist Kym Allen becomes the “fun aunt” who cares for Nugget and brings her to the hospital to work.

Nugget visits toddlers to teenagers in the clinics and hospital. Patients sanitize their hands before and after handling Nugget to prevent the spread of germs, and Nugget sits on a disposable cloth on patients’ beds while snuggling with them. The staff is aware of each patient’s allergies and medical limitations, and Turner seeks parental consent before bringing Nugget into a patient’s room.

“We try to make her eight-hour day as beneficial as possible,” Turner said. “We serve hundreds and hundreds of kids a week so she’s one tired little pup and unfortunately we can’t get to everyone and have those true, meaningful interactions like we want her purpose to be. While she is so great at snuggling, we want that snuggle session to be therapeutic. We want it to be a child that can really, really use that.”

Tristan Dyess’s daughter, Bailey Dyess, had surgery just prior to Thanksgiving and said Nugget made the recovery much easier on the 13-year-old.

“She’s been awesome,” Tristan Dyess said. “(Bailey) asks me every day, ‘can Nugget come by and see me?’”

The hospital also has a pet therapy team that visits the hospital once a month. The hospital has carried that service for 22 years.

Nugget and Turner were able to join the hospital’s team with funding from the Children’s Miracle Network, said Denise Parrish, Senior Media Relations Coordinator for Augusta University. The 17th annual iHeartMedia Cares for Kids Radiothon, which raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network, will be held Dec. 7-9 at the Children’s Hospital.

 

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