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Casper, the friendly dog and nurse’s best friend

Take a look at Fortune Magazine’s Top 100 Companies to Work For and you will surely find a wide array of services that are offered for the convenience of the employees and even the patrons. Some examples may include massage services during the workday, a concierge service that will pick up dry-cleaning and arrange dinner reservations, fiscal counseling or free legal counsel, and child-care options. Now let us venture into the world of pediatric hospitals, and a whole new door of creative services is opened.

Children’s uses dog therapy, and for those dog-lovers out there like myself, I think it is a novel idea, one that far surpasses the benefits of a massage any day. Happy Tails is a program I am very familiar with, where dogs and their owners are brought through the hospital lobby for the children to interact with. When Happy Tails is on the schedule for the day, I regularly see the faces of the children on the unit light up, as they anxiously await that three o’clock hour to pet the dogs ranging in size from Maltese to Great Dane.

I received word of another such service that I was not familiar with, the ultimate pet therapy experience, from a good friend who frequently works at our sister campus, and I had to do my research to see if it was indeed true. Sure enough, all accounts were true, and I introduce you to Casper, the friendly dog.

“Casper to ER room 1” is commonly heard through the intercom at the hospital. Within minutes a beautiful, golden four-legged creature with tongue hanging out comes prancing in to ease the worry of the frightened three year-old awaiting an MRI. Casper is a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix, identified by his vest that reads “I’m friendly, ask to pet me” and can be found working five days a week at Children’s. What makes Casper different from a Happy Tails dog is the extensive 18 months of training he received that allows him access to nearly all areas of the hospital including the ICUs, patient rooms, and cafeteria. Casper’s scope of practice is unlimited, as he has been known to jump up on exam tables next to frightened children prior to procedures. Nurses throughout the hospital have seen non-verbal kids attempt to communicate with Casper, non-mobile kids attempt to walk beside him, and even a bed-ridden child with cerebral palsy who they thought was physically unable to smile smiled when Casper licked a treat out of her hand. The staff also reports that spending time with Casper has helped them to better deal with the grief of losing a patient.

Although I have not had the pleasure of personally encountering this wonderful creature, the accounts that I have heard are remarkable and truly support the old adage of a dog being man’s best friend. Perhaps years from now all hospitals will have a Casper and the profound benefits on patients and staff can be shared by all.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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