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Canine Partner a 'Pawsitive' Influence on Golisano Patients

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health


Single male seeks companionship: Must like long walks in the park, naps on the couch and peanut butter. Age, gender and looks unimportant. Meet me at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Dorian, the hospital’s newest employee is also the only full-time canine in residence. The hospital has more than a dozen therapy dogs who offer a gentle touch to patients, but Dorian helps patients who need an extra set of paws during treatment, and he does it every day.

“He provides an alternate focus for procedures,” says handler and child life specialist, Erika Zalecky. “He helps our patients meet their clinical goals.”

In this way Dorian is more of a service dog, also known as a hospital-based community service dog, not just a visiting companion.

Dorian acts as a distraction for patients who may experience discomfort and also acts as a teaching tool. He can demonstrate imaging to patients who may be reluctant to get on the table or who are unsure about what comes next. He comforts families who have lost a loved one or received a serious diagnosis. His calm demeanor makes him a perfect match for a vulnerable population.

“He’s clinically based and was bred for this purpose,” Zalecky says.

Part of the Golisano family

Dorian, a golden doodle (golden retriever and poodle) mix, was part of a litter of seven puppies who were all given literary names.

Dorian, along with four of his brothers—Beowulf, Sherlock, Huckleberry and Moby—work for hospital systems. The other puppies, Gatsby and Oliver, have service jobs not related to health care.

Zalecky learned about the grant-funded program that offers service dogs for hospital-based programs last year. She started the process in January, and with help of Lee Health grant writer Susan Mitchell, turned in the application in February 2019.

Dunkin’ Donuts Joy in Childhood Foundation awarded the grant in May and by November Zalecky and her counterpart, Anna Stephanz, went to recipient camp at Canine Assistants in Georgia to meet Dorian.

Like Zalecky, Stephanz works directly with young patients and is an ideal teammate to take Dorian when Zalecky cannot be with him.

“We take a bond-based approach to everything he does,” Stephanz says. “Dorian works not on commands but on the relationship he has with his handler.”

As a result Dorian goes everywhere with Zalecky or Stephanz—work, home, play. He is part of the Golisano family.

Bonding with our special patients

When Christina Shelbourne read about Dorian, she immediately knew he could be an asset to her daughter’s health team. Chloe Shelbourne, 11, has battled a chronic illness and requires blood work every six months.

“The last time we had an appointment I called ahead they said Dorian could be part of our time there,” Shelbourne said. “Five minutes after we arrived, Dorian came in the room and he and Chloe had about five minutes to bond.”

The few minutes the two had together made a significant difference in Chloe’s treatment experience. Dorian sat on the bed with Chloe while an RN drew her blood.

“Chloe didn’t budge,” Shelbourne said. “It was a 100 percent difference. Amazing!”

Chloe’s tests have been clear for the past six months, so her trips to the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and to see Dorian will become less frequent. Nevertheless, Shelbourne said she intends to ask for his assistance at every visit.

“Dorian can never leave,” she said.

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