New Top Dog Makes Rounds At Stormont's Pediatrics Unit

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Six-year-old Isaac LeSage seemed a bundle of nervous injury as he bounced on his hospital bed, knowing a surgery loomed later that day to remove an object from his foot.

Enter Maggie. The girl hopped up on his bed, leaned her nose into his hand, and soon Isaac was giggling and talking, as though he discovered a long-lost friend. Soon, Isaac leaned back against his pillow, hand resting atop Maggie's blonde head.

A few minutes later, Maggie visited the room of six-year-old Karis Selk. Karis was having a tough day after complications from her cancer treatments. Maggie simply gently laid her face on Karis' hand, while the young girl held her paw.

Maggie is a therapy dog. While the golden retriever had been visiting the cancer center for some time, she started making weekly rounds with her handler Betty Rose at Stormont-Vail's pediatrics unit in September.

"Maggie just loves people," Rose said of Maggie's attitude toward the job.

In just these first few visits, nurse Lisa Johnson, the volunteer program liaison says, she knows the program is the perfect fit.

"You can hardly bring a dog into any environment without people getting a smile on their face," she said. "It boosts the children's spirit."

Rose is part of the Prairieland Visiting Animal Association and Maggie is certified through the national Pet Partners organization, which makes her more than just a canine cutie. Every two years, she is tested for temperament, plus put through real-life scenarios involving wheelchairs, walkers and other medical equipment, as well as institutional encounters such as elevators and revolving doors.

Maggie gets a fresh bath, ear cleaning, teeth brushed and paws cleaned before every visit. Despite infection concerns, a Mayo Clinic article notes the Centers for Disease Control reports no cases of infection stemming from animal-assisted therapy.

The visits themselves seem to come naturally to her. She was more playful with Isaac, but exuded calm and compassion with Karis.

"The children are so excited to see the dog that you forget they are sick," Rose said. She recalled how one sick toddler was crying in pain, but when Maggie entered the room, "it was like a light switch," and she immediately stopped crying and interacted with the dog.

Studies show therapy animals have a calming effect - and it's not just felt by patients. Johnson said the staff has noted how Maggie's visits give them a boost, too.

Rose, Maggie and their fellow Prairieland Visiting Animals Association volunteers rotate visits to the pediatrics unit once a week.