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    Puppy brigade reports for duty

    A therapy dog program at a children’s hospital provides comfort for pediatric patients and families facing the unfamiliar and a sense of normalcy that makes a frightening hospital experience less so.


    A day in the life of a therapy dog

    On the day that Contemporary Pediatrics visited Akron Children’s Hospital, the editor partnered with therapy dog handler Julie Parton and her golden retriever Rudy, who recently celebrated his third birthday. Rudy shares a special bond with many of the children he helps because he was born without a fully formed right front leg and wears a purple prosthetic paw.

    Before they come to volunteer, Julie makes sure to have Rudy washed and groomed. Initially, the editor saw Rudy happily meet with other volunteers, support staff, doctors, and children who were waiting for appointments or for siblings to be done with appointments. Then Julie and Rudy went downstairs to the physical therapy department, and it was there that they joined a physical therapy session with patient Tessa Puma.

    Tessa’s story

    Before Tessa Puma made international headlines in early 2017, she was an active 6-year-old girl who loved to play sports and dance. In March she was diagnosed with strep throat, and then a few weeks later she became ill with the flu and complained about pains in her arm and leg.4 Tessa was rushed to Akron Children’s, where doctors determined that the strep infection had entered her bloodstream and caused necrotizing fasciitis, a severe bacterial skin infection. After determining that no pulse could be detected in her left foot, the decision was made to amputate Tessa’s lower leg.

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    Therapy sessions typically run for an hour and are physically as well as emotionally taxing for the patient. That’s where Rudy and other members of the Doggie Brigade step in by providing encouragement for progress and no judgement if the session doesn’t go well. Additionally, focusing on the dog allows the time to pass more quickly for the child.

    During Tessa’s therapy session, she worked with her physical therapist to build up strength in her right leg and become accustomed to the shift in balance that would occur once her prosthetic was ready. Over the course of the hour, Tessa walked to meet Rudy using the parallel bars and reached down to give him pats when she successfully reached the end. Then she progressed to a walker to become comfortable using the device and develop the balance needed to move it. Tessa maneuvered the walker toward Julie, who would give her Rudy’s treats, and then she walked to a waiting Rudy to give him his reward.

    Sometimes Rudy would decide that Tessa needed a challenge, and he would lie down, forcing her to stretch out even further to give him the treat. Tessa wrapped up her session for the day by doing strength/movement exercises involving her lower body, during which she gave Rudy a treat after finishing each exercise rep. The sweat on her brow was indicative of how much physical effort she was putting into the therapy, but with a big smile on her face.

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    Miranda Hester
    Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.


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