Everybody’s talking about the New Dog in Town at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), which has welcomed a new pup participant in the hospital system’s innovative Canines for Kids program. Her name is Lotus, and she’s an 18-month old chocolate lab/golden retriever mix who started for Children’s in mid-September. She’s Dog No. 17 on staff for CHOA, which has various locations throughout the Metro, where collectively all these canines interact with hundreds of patients and staff every day. Lotus is based at Scottish Rite Hospital, 101 Johnson Ferry Road Atlanta 30342, where she works with her handler, Chaplain Michael Fogas. She’s the first dog at Children’s also designated for staff support in addition to her assigned service in Canines for Kids.
Canines for Kids is a unique dog-assisted therapy program which originated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Cost effective because it’s entirely donor funded, it’s the very first of its kind nationwide. It’s been so successful that Canines for Kids has been replicated in more than 20 other pediatric or hospital systems as well as medical institutions nationwide. Part of an overall therapy strategy, these dogs perform their role as friendly, well behaved pets (everybody’s), which is at the same time the work they perform. They’re highly trained by Canine Assistants, a national organization based in Milton near Alpharetta in the Metro.
Potential service dogs at Canine Assistants undergo extensive training for 18 month, so Lotus has been learning in her program since her puppyhood. She and all her fellow canines are prepared to deal with patients with physical disabilities and special needs as well. These dogs have learned to remain calm in vari-ous situations while focusing specifically on what is called for by their assigned trainers on location. Care-fully screened, hospital dogs are attentive and dutiful. They must have finely honed instincts that have become demonstrable in their training, in order to make the grade for service in a top-rated medical facility.
In actual service, each facility dog works with healthcare providers to help minimize inevitable hospital stress, which surely is at a high level. An impressive track record has shown that the Canines for Kids pro-gram effectively supports the overall social, physical and emotional progress of patients. Benefits include reduction of anxiety and loneliness, alleviation of distraction from illness and motivation for patients who throughout the day are coping with hospitalization. In many ways canines are better than humans in these important areas because well-adjusted dogs possess remarkable degrees of unconditional love and acceptance.
It’s interesting to follow along with all the Children’s dogs’ often touching adventures in jobs that make both them and patients happy. Let’s hear it for the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta Canines for Kids dog therapy program!
-Dr. Paul Hudson