Giving

Four Legged Volunteer Brings Smiles to Patients

Something special happens when Abby arrives at Cincinnati Children’s. The mood lightens. People stop and smile. Conversations begin. Even the security guard leans down and asks to pet her.

Abby Golden Doodle, a 75-pound cross between a standard poodle and golden retriever, is a therapy dog.
Whenever her owner, Greg Park, gets out her special hospital leash, Abby knows it’s time to go to work.

Three-year-old Abby doesn’t mind having strangers reach out to touch her. The big, white dog with the tightly wound poodle coat laps it up and looks like she’s smiling back at everyone who smiles at her.

“You would think my wife and I never pet her,” Greg says. “She loves the attention.”

Making the Cut

It’s not easy to get to be a therapy dog at Cincinnati Children’s. More than 120 owners a year volunteer their dogs to be part of the program. Only about 10 percent of those pets pass the temperament test, says Edith Markoff, PhD, coordinator of the dog visitation program.

Basic obedience isn’t enough. It takes a dog that can be comfortable inside the walls of a hospital and around unfamiliar equipment, glass doors, elevators, slick floors and unfamiliar noises.

“They have to be friendly and outgoing but calm enough to be around kids who are medically fragile,” Markoff says.

Abby, who already had experience visiting schools and nursing homes, became part of the hospital program in 2009. It’s something her owner had in mind when he chose her breed.

Greg, an attorney by trade, bought the dog as a retirement gift to himself. He took Abby to puppy school and to three behavior and obedience classes to prepare her for making hospital rounds.

“Her success as a volunteer visiting dog is really due to her personality more than the training,” Greg says. “Her personality is very sweet and loving and gentle, very much a people dog, and very much a children’s people dog.”

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