Therapy and service dogs serve a vital purpose, bringing love, companionship, and comfort to millions of people. The impact they can have on a person’s mental health is immense. Just take the example of Bob as an example. Bob, a mix of Golden Retriever and Goldendoodle, is a staple at Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts. The big, affectionate dog has become such a crucial part of the center, he’s been awarded official employee status. Each day at 8 am, his handler, Anne Marie Sirois, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services, drops him off at the hospital to start his 8-hour shift. Dolling out comfort, attention, and affection, he’s become an invaluable asset, not to mention one of Tufts’ most popular employees.
The Grant with a Difference
As the Boston Globe writes, Bob came to Tufts Medical Center through a Dogs for Joy grant from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation. As the official website points out, the Dogs for Joy program aims to increase the number of dogs working full time in hospitals to bring a shot of joy to those battling illness. Known as in-residence dogs, the dogs are considered full-time employees, working each day like their human counterparts and forming an integral part of the hospital’s team. Their tasks are varied, with much depending on the needs of each individual patient. Sometimes they might help keep a child calm before surgery. Other times they might act as an incentive to encourage a patient out of bed. They can even help teach kids how to take medication or how to put on a hospital gown. Since its launch, the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation has awarded grants to 12 children’s hospitals for 15 in-residence dogs. One of those is Bob.
Before taking up residence at Tufts Medical Center, Bob was trained at Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia that raises, trains, and places service dogs. Due to the varied, skilled tasks an in-residence dog can be expected to perform over the course of the day, training was extensive: in total, Bob received 2200 hours of intensive instruction. After Tufts was awarded the grant from Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation, the hospital’s director of child life services, Andrea Colliton, spent a week at Canine Assistants, getting to known Bob and learning more about the kind of value he could bring to the clinic.
Bob Arrives at Tufts
After arriving in Massachusetts as a two-year-old pup, Bob quickly set about winning a place for himself in the hearts and minds of both the clinic’s patients and medical staff. Since then, he’s become one the most popular members of the team, displaying the same commitment and dedication to his post as a fully paid-up staff member. The familiar sight of him pattering through the corridors has become a source of huge comfort, particularly in the last year when patients have been cut off from most outside contact due to the pandemic.
According to his handler, Anne Marie Sirois, Bob has only one flaw: occasionally trying to eat his harness. “He’s probably the most popular staff member around. He’s a great co-worker,” she says. And she’s clearly not the only one to think so. One of Bob’s biggest strengths is being able to recognize when a patient is in need of comfort. When he does, his movements become slow and gentle. Sometimes, he’ll even stop at the door of a patient he’s visited in the past, even if they’re not part of that day’s route, as though he can sense they might need a visit. But while he might be a full-time hospital employee, Bob is still a dog. When the morning work is over, he and Sirios head out to the outdoor deck where he can release some steam by bouncing around, running after balls, and rolling around. “Up here,” Sirois says via MSN, “he’s just a dog.”
The Feedback Is In
Bob might be just a dog when he’s galloping around outside but inside the hosptal’s corridors, he’s way more than that. Five days a week, he spends 8 hours a day visiting between seven to ten patients, providing a very welcome dose of affection and comfort. Some of the patients to have benefited from Bob’s particular style of therapy include Jessica Stanton, a 24-year-old from Billerica who is awaiting a heart transplant. “He makes me forget,” Stanton says. “I have my good days and bad days, but seeing him just cheers me up,” she adds. “Without Bob and the nurses, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Another patient to have benefitted from Bob’s administrations is Charlie West, a 49-year-old from Mattapoisett who’s been at the hospital since December waiting for a heart transplant. Due to his condition, West spends most of his time hooked up to machines. As a result of the COVID-19 precautions in place at the hospital, West has only received one visitor during his time there, something that makes his visits from Bob all the more important. “If I’m feeling low, he’ll jump up and hang out a bit,” he says. “He brightens my day and breaks the monotony. If I feel down in the dumps, he helps out.” Jordan Dolock, a critical care technician in the cardiac unit, agrees, saying “He’s a bit of sunshine. He keeps it light around here.”
Bob the Stress Reliever
Working in a hospital is always challenging, and the added stress of the pandemic over the last year certainly hasn’t helped. Fortunately, Bob has been on hand to dish out as much support and comfort to the staff as to the patients. “To be honest, I think he does more for the employees than he does for the patients,” Dolock says. Colliton agrees, adding “He’s made my job so much more amazing. I knew it would be a benefit, but I didn’t realize how much.” In light of the COVID restrictions, everyone at the hospital is taking extra precautions… including Bob. Anyone who pets him, whether they’re a patient or a staff member, has to wash their hands with sanitizer beforehand. It’s an extra task, but one that clearly no one minds doing, not when the rewards of spending time with Tufts’ most popular employee are so great.