My name is Sophie, one of the Pawprints therapy dogs here at Boston Children’s Hospital. I’m a 13-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and I love making my rounds at the hospital.
I’ve been a therapy dog at Boston Children’s for about four years. I don’t want to brag, but being a therapy dog takes some special skills, and not every dog is cut out for the job. First of all, you have to have the right temperament and personality to work with kids and their families in a hospital setting. That’s easy for me — lots of kids tell me I’m “the chillest dog they’ve ever met.” But just having the right personality isn’t enough. I also had to go through obedience training and take special tests in a simulation room to make sure I wasn’t afraid of loud sounds, strange looking medical equipment or being around lots of people.
Time for work
When my person, Lee Ann, puts on my dog therapy vest and Boston Children’s ID badge, I know that means it’s Tuesday and time for work. We head to the Center for Families at Boston Children’s to meet with Lynn Belkin and get our assignments for the day. We also work with a child life specialist, who comes with us to patient rooms. We usually visit the same floors every week, but if they need me somewhere else, we’ll go there instead. Honestly, I don’t really care where we go, as long as I make lots of friends and get lots of pets.
One thing you may not know about me is that I’m completely deaf. Lee Ann had to teach me to read her sign language so I could understand what she wants me to do (or not do!). But I still like it when people talk to me. I also have a condition called Cushing’s disease, so I know what it’s like to take medicine every day and to not always feel your best.
My favorite part of the day is seeing a kid’s face light up when we walk into the room. It’s nice to know I can make someone smile, even if they’re not feeling so great. Sometimes parents say they haven’t seen their child smile for a few days. Even teenagers who don’t want to talk with anyone else are usually happy to see me. That really makes my day.
Meeting new friends
Once we’re in the room, I like to get right up on the bed and give kisses, as long as it’s okay with the child. If someone is a little scared of dogs but still wants to meet me, Lee Ann holds me up to say hello. We also have a special command she gives if someone wants me to sit with them but doesn’t want kisses. Then I’ll just snuggle up close for some hugs and petting. That’s one of the best parts of my job. Did I mention I like being petted? Sometimes, my eyes start to shut and it might look like I’m sleeping. But I’m just enjoying my doggy massage.
During our visit, Lee Ann has a special picture book she brings along, to show the kids photos of me and my little brother, Charlie, at home. There’s even a picture of me wearing my dog goggles (called doggles) after I had a mini stroke. People like that one. We usually sit with each patient about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how they feel, and then we’re off to visit with someone else. It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to a new friend, but sometimes I get to visit them again another week.
We also make lots of new friends as we’re walking through the hallways and on the elevators. I’m always happy to stop and say hello and get extra attention. Lee Ann carries a bottle of hand sanitizer with her, so people can clean their hands after they pet me. Don’t worry, I’m not offended! It is a children’s hospital after all, so everyone needs to keep their hands as clean as possible.
Sometimes we hang out in the Patient Education Center or in waiting rooms and meet people there. I also make the rounds to visit some of the doctors and nurses — they really like giving me hugs and kisses, too. Let’s just say I’m pretty popular.
Till next week
By the end of the day, I’m usually tired and ready to go home and hang out with Charlie. He’s 3 years old and recently became a therapy dog. We may look alike, but everyone says we’re very different. He’s a little more energetic than me, but really likes to snuggle. I like to think I’ve been a good influence on him and feel proud that he’s following in my footsteps — I mean pawprints.
Learn more about Pawprints.
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