Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

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Canine Greeters welcome visitors to Cleveland Clinic

Canine Greeters welcome visitors to Cleveland Clinic


    A cat may have nine lives, but a dog can help extend lives.
    Just ask the volunteers who participate in the Canine Greeter program at the Cleveland Clinic.
    The volunteer-run Canine Greeter program was born on the Cleveland Clinic main campus in 2008 and has been so well received that it has been expanded to include seven other Clinic branch locations. The program has been introduced at family health centers in Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Independence, Solon, Strongsville, Twinsburg and Willoughby Hills.
    Justin Tatulinski, administrative program coordinator in volunteer services for the Cleveland Clinic, said the Canine Greeter program was an idea conceived by Clinic President Dr. Toby Cosgrove, who thought that the dogs might calm patients anxious about their medical appointments.
    “The dogs improve the patient experience,” Mr. Tatulinski explained. “Patients often find their time spent waiting for doctor visits to be very stressful. They enjoy talking with the dog owners and telling them about their own pets. It relieves anxiety, and provides entertainment and socialization.”
    Mr. Tatulinski said there are now 31 dogs that are active canine greeters at the Cleveland Clinic and that other hospitals are inquiring about the program. “It is very well respected and we want to see it grow and grow and grow,” he added.
    Qualified dog handler teams must be able to commit to a weekly shift of at least one and a half hours. Each team is screened and a basic behavioral test is conducted. “I schedule a meet-and-greet with each individual and their dog,” he said. “We test the dog to make sure it can sit and stay on command. The dog should be calm, not too energetic and not prone to jumping up. We have pediatric and elderly patients who can fall. We also do not want the dog to do any barking. The dog and handler have to be aware of their surroundings and not easily distracted.”
    “The testing process takes about 20 minutes. We make sure the dog is current on all vaccinations and we want it to be at least one year in age. The dog owner gets a free TB test. Then, we invite the handler to participate in one of our weekly orientations to learn about hospital policies,” he said. Mr. Tatulinski accompanies the dog and owner on their first rounds of the hospital facility to introduce them to the staff.
    “Many of the dog owners are Cleveland Clinic patients who just want to give back,” he added. “They give of themselves for the betterment of the hospital and its patients. They genuinely know in their minds that this program is something that does help.” Mr. Tatulinski said the dog owners have regular volunteer meetings and often share stories about their experiences working with their dogs at the Cleveland Clinic.
    Program participant John Sobotincic, who volunteers with his greyhound Daisy at the main campus and at the Beachwood facility, related a recent experience at the Cleveland Clinic Miller Pavilion. He said that he and Daisy were walking the wide hallway when they encountered a couple pushing a woman patient in a wheelchair. “The older woman, who had a blank expression on her face, was seated in the chair with a pink blanket over her lap and knees and her hands were under the blanket,” he noted. “I always look for a sign that it is okay to approach anyone with Daisy and got a nod from the man. Daisy placed her head in the lap of the woman in the wheelchair, and the woman took her hands out from under the blanket and started to pet Daisy’s head. I then noticed the woman behind her gasp and start to cry. It appears that her mother had been unresponsive and they were startled and pleased to see her interact with Daisy. I know that this couple re-ceived great joy from this visit.”
    Al Pavli is the owner of Magnolia, a dalmatian, and he and his dog volunteer on the main Cleveland Clinic campus. He had a couple of recent stories to share. “My best ‘feel good experience’ was a double, with two exceptional experiences on the same day,” he added.
    “Magnolia and I were working in the Miller lobby on the same day that a Bloomberg TV news crew was shooting. They had a cameraman with a shoulder-mounted camera and a sound man with head phones and a sound control board strapped to his chest. The sound man also held an overhead microphone on a long pole. They got some video of Magnolia and me greeting some people, when we were approached by a woman carrying a four- or five-year-old child. She placed the child on the floor in front of Magnolia and Magnolia did her usual little sniff of the child’s shoes, clothes and hands, followed by a tail wag and the child reached out and petted Magnolia on the head.”
    “At this time, Magnolia was approached by people from the other side and she turned to greet them. The child was not done with Magnolia and took several steps toward her and petted her on her back. At this time, the woman with her screamed and started to cry. She scared the wits out of me,” he noted. “She then explained that those were her child’s first steps, and that the child was autistic, and that she was so thankful that Magnolia did what she was unable to do for several years — getting the child to walk for the very first time. We witnessed magic communication between child and dog at the most basic level and it got through the autism.”
    “Magnolia and I continued our greeting duties that day and encountered a very active boy about 12 years of age. He seemed to be by himself and he amused himself by clim­bing on the railing bars in the lobby. He came over to pet Magnolia,” Mr. Pavli said. “All of a sudden, there was a lot of activity on the upper level of the lobby. We saw a boy about eight years old in a wheelchair, with an EKG machine and several IV lines connected and an entourage of white-coated medics. After a while, the very active boy came over to Magnolia and told me that the medics sent him over to ask Magnolia and me over for a visit. We went and did our usual greeting and it appeared that the eight-year-old boy was pleased. Only after we retreated from the interview did I learn from some of the staff that the eight year old was a recovering pediatric heart transplant recipient. The energetic 12 year old was a fully recovered heart transplant survivor, and was there to give encouragement to the younger boy.”
    “This was the best day that Magnolia and I have ever had together and I was bursting with pride at the good job Magnolia had done,” he said. “However, I am sure that any other dog in the Clinic Canine Greeter program would have done as well and that any other handler would have, also. Magnolia and I were blessed by the luck of the draw on this assignment. I wish that all of the dog handlers in the program could at some time experience the satisfaction that our assignment provided to Magnolia and me.”

    For more information about the Canine Greeters Program, call Justin Tatulinski at 216.444.5619.

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