Local Hospital Partners With Nonprofit Canine Companions Organization
Writer / Renee Larr
American writer Thom Jones once said that dogs have a way of finding the people who need them. Dogs are utilized in many ways to assist police departments, provide joy to hospitalized patients, and assist the blind.
Donatello, a 3-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix, assists patients at Community Rehabilitation Hospital North (CRHN).
“Our hospital is a specialized level of care that is short intensive rehab for adults, following injuries such as strokes, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, spinal cord injuries and other traumas,” says Annette Seabrook, CEO.
Patients must undergo at least three hours of therapy five days per week while staying at the facility. This includes physical, occupational and speech therapy. That’s where Donatello comes in.
“We applied for a dog from Canine Companions for Independence [CCI],” Seabrook says. “It’s a nonprofit organization that raises and trains service companions and facility dogs for people with disabilities, or for hospitals like us.”
The program could not function without the support of volunteer puppy raisers.
“I got involved with CCI about 10 years ago,” says Dave Norris, who raises dogs for the organization. “Keebler, our current puppy, is our 10th. We get them at about eight weeks of age and keep them until they’re 17 or 19 months of age. We work with them on basic commands, obedience and socialization. We try to put them in as many new experiences as possible because we never want an experience to be new. We want them to be ready for anything.”
Raising puppies from such a young age and turning them over to CCI can be emotional.
“They become a part of your family, no question,” Norris says. “Another puppy raiser told me a little piece of your heart goes with them when they leave. The parting is a little easier knowing they’re going on to something mightier.”
In September of 2020, Seabrook was matched with Donatello. She traveled to CCI’s training facility in Columbus, Ohio. Donatello now lives and works with Seabrook.
“I wanted a high-energy dog for our facility,” Seabrook says. “You get to meet several different dogs to see which one you best connect with for your needs. It’s just amazing to see how different their personalities are. Each morning, we put his vest on and he goes to work. Donatello does a variety of things, but this varies due to patient need. For example, I have a patient that needs to work on their fine motor control of their hand. Instead of picking up pegs or cones, we can put Donatello on the mat table in front of them, and they can work on holding a brush and trying to brush him.”
Donatello also helps patients who may be returning home to a dog of their own.
“We want to work on the patient’s balance so they will stand, and I’ll give Donatello a command to jump on them to try to knock them off balance,” Seabrook says. “It’s to prepare them for how their dog might act when they go home.”
Part of Donatello’s therapy with stroke patients is verbal commands.
“People who have had strokes typically have issues with memory or speech deficits,” Seabrook says. “We work with them by having them give Donatello commands. They also tend to focus on one side of their body over the other. We’ll position him so they have to cross their midline and reach over to the opposite side.”
But what happens when Donatello takes off his vest and goes home from work?
“When you go home, you want to reinforce all the commands he uses,” Seabrook says. “For example, he’s still not allowed to jump up on the furniture – but I’ll be honest, when he takes the vest off, he’s just like any other dog. He runs around the yard and grabs sticks, but when he puts the vest back on, he sort of starts to chill.”
CCI specifically uses Labradors and golden retrievers.
“Both of those breeds are very gentle, people-oriented, quick learners and eager to please,” Seabrook says.
Donatello even makes the rounds offering support to increase motivation and decrease anxiety.
“There are days where a patient might just be having a bad day,” Seabrook says. “We even have some who miss their pets at home. We have a command called ‘visit’ where Donatello will put his head in their lap or get in their bed with them. For a lot of them, it’s just comforting for him to be there.”
Dogs are unique animals because they can provide love, affection and service to humans. Donatello continues to provide all of these at CRHN for the foreseeable future.
For more info on Community Rehabilitation Hospital North, visit ecommunity.com/locations/community-rehabilitation-hospital-north.
For additional details on Canine Companions for Independence, visit cci.org.