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Facility dog supports families, provides normalcy at UMC Children’s Hospital

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 5:14 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock agencies are guiding people through tough times with the help of dogs.

In the wake of tragedy, people don’t always have the right words to help, but experts say dogs can provide comfort that isn’t humanly possible. Ralls ISD shared to its Facebook page that Lubbock ISD sent therapy dogs to console its students, after one student died in a crash early this week.

Sable, the facility dog at the UMC Children’s Hospital, is used to providing support in stressful times. Her handler, Child Life Specialist Hannah Boyd, says she does that by helping patients and families find positive ways to cope, to better understand a new diagnosis, or getting them ready for a procedure.

“She is so great at helping prep patients for IVs or just different procedures, modeling being really still like, ‘Do you see how still Sable is? This is how still you have to be for your MRI,’ ambulating with patients after a surgery, helping with physical therapy after wound care,” she said. “It makes it so much more normal and like less of a task if you’re doing it with a dog.”

Boyd says Sable is a full-time facility dog at the hospital, working a 40-hour work week Sunday through Thursday. Of course, she gets breaks to go outside and naps during lunch. She has a few programs, like a pen-paw program, where patients write Sable letters and she writes back. Since she started at the end of September, Sable has had 1,032 interactions with patients.

“My job is not to make kids happy. Her job is not to make kids happy. Her job is to help provide that sense of normalization and to help kids going through things that are really big and really scary,” Boyd said.

In those scary moments, Sable helps parents, too.

“I did have a patient once who was really really sick and they were going to transfer out to a different facility. And I was talking with the mom privately and she was sitting in a chair, she was so upset, and Sable was sitting in a chair next to her and Sable just got her paw and she just reached over and like put it on the mom’s hand and she just cried,” Boyd said.

When things seem hopeless, Boyd says dogs pick up on that and give support that isn’t humanly possible. She says the physiological benefits from seeing a dog, like a lower blood pressure and heart rate, last even after the dog is gone.

“It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter what kind of state you’re in or what you’ve been through or where you’re going. The dog is going to show up.”

Right now, dogs are showing up for that exact reason in Uvalde. Lubbock ISD has sent a team of therapy dogs and handlers to provide comfort for families.

Boyd says Sable, like facility dogs in other hospitals, is an employee, an intentional part of a patient’s treatment. Interactions are documented in the patient’s medical chart, Sable is allowed in procedures and she can prepare patients for procedures. She says therapy dogs are volunteers, and can’t do everything a facility dog can, but they can provide social support.

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