Sam loves his dog, Cookie. When he stayed at Children’s Medical Center Dallas for eight months last year waiting for his second intestinal transplant, he missed his sidekick.
Little did Sam know he would meet another dog that would brighten his days until he reunited with Cookie. Badger, a Goldendoodle, joined Children’s Health℠ in March 2016, and Sam was the first transplant patient to meet him.
Making a Difference
Children’s Health partners with a program called Canine Assistants to provide facility dog services. The dogs are specifically bred and trained to help others. In the pediatric hospital setting, facility dogs help to decrease feelings of fear and isolation regarding their hospitalization and help with relaxation and distraction.
Badger is incorporated into the work day as much as possible. Badger also helps Kirstin provide emotional support to patients who are hospitalized, or grief support and counseling intervention with parents who are adapting to their child’s new diagnosis or making difficult medical decisions on their behalf. In the group setting, Badger assists by attending patient support groups and offering distraction for patient parents anxiously waiting during their child’s surgery or procedure.
Badger is an important part of the Children’s Health family – both inside and outside the hospital walls. He attends the spring picnic, the holiday party, and Camp SOAR – the transplant patient camp.
“Our pre-and post-liver transplant patients vary in age from just a few months old up to young adults,” Kirstin said. “Badger is so patient and amenable with our younger kids who tend to poke, prod and play a little roughly at times. He also loves our teenagers who know where his sweet spot is for scratches and are content with him putting his head on their lap so they can just hang together.”
A Man’s Best Friend
During Sam’s stay at Children’s Health, he was one of those teenagers who loved hanging out with Badger day in and day out.
“Playing with Badger made me happy and was a fun distraction during my long hospitalization,” Sam said.
Kirstin says that Sam and Badger immediately hit it off during a time that Sam needed it most. Badger often visited Sam and his mother, Alejandra, who stayed by Sam’s side day and night and has been a steadfast caregiver and support for him.
“Sam’s face would light up when Badger would pop his head through the door,” Kirstin said. “Badger knew the drill. He loved visiting Sam. We would go through the process of sanitizing our hands and would carefully place a gown or sheet over Sam’s bed before Badger would eagerly jump up, snuggle against Sam’s side, and happily hang out with him.”
Badger is full of personality and like a typical dog loves to run, go on walks and play fetch. But he also loves to sleep and eat, which Sam could relate to.
“We are both kind of lazy, so I enjoyed laying with him, and he loves to eat, like me,” Sam said.
For Kirstin, serving as Badger’s handler and watching patients like Sam benefit from his visits is a dream that finally became a reality.
“I dreamt about ways to meld my love of animals with my love of helping people,” Kirstin said. “I have worked as a clinical social worker at Children’s Health for eight years now but can honestly say that this last year with Badger by my side has been the best.”