Fargo, ND

Therapy Dog Helps Local Youth With Mental Health Issues and Brightens Day of Sanford Children's Patients

Sushmita Singh

13-year-old Haley, a patient at Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo, North DakotaSanford Health News

Nine-year-old Tucker has a very big job. He is usually pretty quiet but is one of the most important members of Sanford Health's behavioural services team.

He has been a therapy dog for over four years at Peter Lougheed Centre. He has helped the patients through some of their most troublesome times.

“When we have our meetings in the morning, it’s a little bit of, ‘Hmm, will Tucker come to me first? Oh, I hope he does.’ And just having him do his rounds and say hello to everybody,” said Sanford Health Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Stefanie Hanisch.

The treatment program deals with health issues like depression and anxiety for those between the ages of 12 to 18. And though Tucker cannot help with the medical work, he gives the patients what is most important. The human to human interaction.

Apart from Tucker, the thing unique about this program is that it doesn't include overnight stays. Instead, it provides treatment throughout the day.

“We don’t always get into telling them before we walk into the room so sometimes he’s a pretty pleasant surprise,” explained his owner and Sanford Health Social Worker Wanda Carlson. “He’s good with alleviating some of the anxiety about this is a really scary place and there’s not any humor or kind of lightening up of the moment. I think that’s a lot of what he does.”

Canadian research from the University of Saskatchewan showed patients who spent 10 minutes with a visiting therapy dog “reported they felt more comfortable, happier and less distressed while waiting for emergency care in hospital.”

Similarly, at the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo, their favourite volunteer is a 6-pound, pet therapy puppy named Norman.

Norman is one of the only two certified therapy dogs who visit Sanford Health in Forgo and proudly wears his official volunteer badge along with a character bow tie.

The pet therapy program provides a sense of normalization, especially for the kids. Petting an animal is therapeutic and everyone loves Tucker and Norman.

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