boulder community health canine corpsThis blog was provided by the BCH Foundation

The Boulder Community Health (BCH) Canine Corps has been delivering comfort and smiles to patients, visitors, and staff at BCH since 2000. The corps includes over 40 therapy dogs that visit the Foothills Campus, Tebo Family Medical Pavilion and the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion daily. We are so thankful for these sweet pups and their volunteer handlers for all that they do to bring comfort and joy each day to our staff and patients.

As a volunteer-run and managed program, and funded in part by the BCH Foundation, we continue to be amazed at the impact their efforts have on patients like Katia. Katia is an 8-year-old girl who received occupational therapy services to work on balance, gross, fine motor and visual coordination, and activities of daily living at BCH’s Pediatric Rehab Center with BCH occupational therapist, Ana Antonetti. Ana worked with Katia once a week for six months.

During this time, it was noted that Katia also had sensory processing concerns such as being overly sensitive to sounds and touch, which was when Katia’s mother informed Ana that Katia’s fear of dogs was affecting her daily life. Katia wouldn’t walk by a dog on the sidewalk without making a very large detour. This was concerning for Katia’s family because it could put her in danger of walking into the street or not paying attention to where she was going. The unpredictability of a dog can be scary for a child who has difficulty with tolerating noises and touch input. This is when Ana asked for the Canine Corps for help with Katia’s therapy. The Canine Corps matched Katia with Anne Walker and Nina the Golden Retriever.

Prior to meeting Nina for the first time, Anne sent over a picture of Nina. During the initial session in occupational therapy, Ana and Katia looked at the picture and discussed Nina’s body positioning, her facial expression, and the general behaviors of dogs when they are happy or upset. Katia took the picture home with her to continue to discuss with her family.

Katia’s first encounter with Nina went extremely well. She was determined to touch Nina that day. Katia invited Nina and her handler Anne to the treatment room and proceeded to show Nina some of her favorite things to do during therapy such as swinging. That day, Katia was able to take on her fear which led to her petting Nina and giving her treats.

The next visit did not go as well since Katia had been barked at by a dog at a friend’s house that week. Nina and Anne were very patient with Katia while she worked on building her confidence back up. Katia would startle at times when Nina turned her head towards her. Nina seemed to read Katia’s cues and kept from looking at Katia even when she was being loud. Anne was very good at working with Nina to slowly help Katia become more comfortable with Nina again, including walking Nina around the room while Katia did her handwriting work and they practiced walking past Nina without fear.

Katia’s last visit after months of therapy with Nina occurred outside at a community park. During the park visit, other dogs were encountered and Katia did great! Although Katia is still fearful of dogs, she is much more equipped to handle a dog unexpectedly in the community thanks to the help of Anne, Nina and the Canine Corps.

“This interaction between Nina and Katie was so extraordinary because both Nina and Anne are so perceptive. Nina was a perfect fit to help Katia learn more about dogs and be able to walk past a dog in the community. Anne and Nina worked so well as a team to provide the just-right challenges for Katia. Nina was perceptive and sensitive when she sensed fear and would lay calmly or look away at just the right times. Anne and Nina are a very special pair and were critical to Katia’s care plan. Katia has since been discharged from occupational therapy due to significant progress.” -Ana Antonetti, OTR/L, Outpatient Pediatric Rehabilitation, Boulder Community Health

“When Katia and Nina first made eye contact, she told her mom, “I think we can get a dog now.” Katie went from not being able to look at a picture of a dog to walking next to her and feeding her treats. Now that is remarkable and I give Nina all of the credit.” -Anne Walker, Canine Corps Handler, Boulder Community Health