Dogs bring all sorts of health benefits and levity to our lives. They encourage physical activity, have been shown to lower blood pressure and act as emotional support on our most challenging days as humans. Outside their role as pets, highly trained assistance dogs can work wonders for the physical and mental well-being of hospitalized patients, too.
For young kids and teens, a stay at the hospital can potentially be a traumatic experience. Incorporating a facility dog helps make it less so.
Lori Denault, a supervisor at Sutter’s CPMC Novack Family Child Life Department in San Francisco, says welcoming their new full-time facility dog, Omega, has helped the team provide greater healing and “whole person” care.
“Once the patient has a dog in their room, it’s nearly impossible for them not to engage,” explains Denault. “It puts them in a different headspace, and for kids who have a dog at home, it’s a chance for them to feel normal. Omega’s presence also reduces stress for the patient’s parents and siblings.”
According to Denault, Omega goes to work simply by engaging.
“He will lay his head on a child’s chest, while snuggling next to them, if he senses they need a little extra support,” she says.
Trained to Provide Comfort
Omega, a Labrador Golden Retriever Mix, joined CPMC’s Child Life team from Canine Companions for Independence® (CCI) in Santa Rosa, Calif. Canine Companions assistance dogs are highly trained and trustworthy dogs partnered with a professional handler. And, like all Canine Companions facility dogs, Omega went through an extensive two-year specialized training program to learn 40 different commands. While at CPMC, Omega works directly with patients on the Pediatric and Pediatric Intensive Care Units toward goal-oriented patient interventions, such as walking after surgery or motivation in taking their medication.
Already in his short time at the medical center’s Van Ness Campus, Omega has become a favorite among patients and staff.
“Omega has already had countless transformative interactions and has been an invaluable member of our Child Life team,” says Denault. “I remember one of our teens telling me, ‘I can do anything with Omega by my side.’”
Omega’s Happy Tale
Omega was matched with Denault in October 2020 and has been hard at work at the hospital since that time. Canine Companions provided Omega free of charge to CPMC’s Child Life Department, with the not-for-profit spending approximately $50,000 per dog for costs associated with the dog’s breeding, raising, training, and ongoing follow-up services for the lifetime of the partnership.
Sutter Health, an integrated not-for-profit health system in Northern California, has collaborated with Canines for Companions since 2002. The system currently has 10 expertly trained facility dogs from Canine Companions, including Omega as the newest addition.
While Omega is busy helping patients, he was able to spare a few minutes to answer some questions:
Name: Omega (alias: Meggie)
Breed: Labrador Golden Retriever Mix
Age: 2 ½
Current Position: Certified Facility Dog at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), October 2020 – Present
Special Skills: Opening and closing electronic doors; turning light switches on and off; reducing anxiety; offering cuddles; acting as a casual conversation-starter.
Relationship Status: Lori is my main handler, but I’m good friends with CPMC Child Life staffers like Astrid and Nicole. Nurse Victoria also stops by a lot to give me pets, which I’m happy to oblige.
What I’m looking for: A soft place to lay down until a patient needs me.