By Josh Heath

 

Patients at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia are sometimes greeted by unusual employees: Golden Retrievers named Casey and Nugget. Macie Meeks and Harleigh Smith, Child Life Specialists, use the dogs to help patients adjust to a hospital stay, which can be a scary experience for anyone, especially children. Casey and Nugget perform a variety of important services, including comforting patients during medical procedures, providing an incentive for them to participate in physical and occupational therapy after an injury or surgery, and distracting them from the stress of illness. For example, Nugget, who started at the hospital in November 2017, often plays the role of a patient, having her blood pressure and temperature taken, according to her handler, Harleigh. She’s even had mock CT scans. Nugget helps patients feel less apprehensive about these procedures. Harleigh said most of the children are excited about interacting with the dogs.

Casey started working in the hospital’s OR in March, so she is still acclimating to her job. Macie explained that the dog helps to comfort and distract patients who are nervous about surgery and helps them recover after surgery. “We’ve had kids who got out of bed after surgery just so they can walk with a dog,” she said.

Of course, not every dog is cut out for this kind of role. Casey and Nugget completed extensive training from birth at Canine Assistants in Alpharetta, Ga. Macie and Harleigh also spent a week at the facility to learn how to handle the dogs and work with them in a hospital setting.

While most kids love having Casey and Nugget at the hospital, not everyone is comfortable around them. “We obviously run into people who are afraid of dogs,” said Harleigh. Children’s reactions to the dogs are often based on their previous interactions with dogs, she explained. Other patients avoid the dogs due to allergies, and sometimes parents refuse to allow their children to interact with them.

Like other employees at the hospital, the dogs work 40 hours a week, but they get breaks throughout the day. Macie and Harleigh take Casey and Nugget home with them after work. The dogs are paid for by the Children’s Miracle Network specifically to work in the Children’s Hospital, but Nugget now visits the hospital lobby twice a week, giving more patients and visitors the chance to interact with her.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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