By: Samantha Jones, CCLS Guest Contributor
Child Life Specialists utilize non-pharmacological agents to aid in supporting patients to cope with hospitalization. There are bubbles and blocks and books and Buzzy, and sometimes, there are dogs.
Dogs make people feel good.
A facility dog (a dog in a hospital!) is a low-tech, low-cost, non-pharmacological intervention for helping to promote a patient’s physical and emotional health. A trained assistance dog can be present during procedures for comfort and distraction, encourage mobility and promote recovery by encouraging patients to become active, and provide emotional support in times of distress. Also, they’re super cute.
Introducing a facility dog to your unit, though, can be ruff. It involves approval from your hospital or clinic, the development of strict policies and guidelines, clearance from infection prevention and control, blessings from senior management teams, extensive applications and interviews, and patience from your coworkers.
When you finally have the dog, you are giving rise to a new employee (whom you vouched for and now directly supervise but without the referral bonus) to the hospital. As a handler, you must establish boundaries (no, you can’t share your donut with the dog), maintain the dog’s training (reallllllly hard to do when people run at you with flailing arms to pet your dog without asking), and be a Child Life Specialist (a PICC line is starting, but also good luck dodging every overworked and puppy-seeking resident on the way).
A dog in the hospital can be magic. But it also involves saying no to a lot of pleading parents (unless you’re able to visit 120+ patients in a day), educating staff about your role as a Child Life Specialist (versus the girl/guy with the dog), and keeping the four-legged cowoofer (who doesn’t bring home a paycheck) happy, exercised, and healthy.
If you are anticipating introducing a facility dog to your work area, there are a few questions that might be helpful pawing through beforehand:
- Where will the dog work? Is the dog an extension of you and only visiting your patients? Or, will the dog be available for referrals outside of its assigned area?
- Will a Child Life Specialist be handling the dog or will you have an entirely separate role for a facility dog handler?
- What constitutes an appropriate referral?
- How will you pay for the vet visits, food, medications, and grooming?
- How will you respond when people exclaim, “I’m so jealous. You have the best job; you just get to walk around with a dog all day!” Maybe tell them to quit hounding you.
Do it! I double dog dare you.
While there are a lot of logistics to consider before introducing a facility dog to your area of work, there is even more joy to be had when the dog begins its role and becomes a member of your family. The bliss, wonder, and solace a dog brings to patients, families, and staff (and handler!) is indescribable (but also, perhaps, deserves its own blog post – stay tuned ;)).