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Dorian Still Spreads Happiness During Ruff Times

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health

His walking harness speaks when he cannot: “Ask to pet me. I’m friendly.”

Dorian, the hardest-working and only full-time canine employee at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, rushes to greet anyone who appears interested in him. The dedicated service dog joined the staff in November 2019.

His main duties are to distract and comfort children who are ill or receiving treatment and to provide relief in times that might otherwise be sad or depressing.

He also offers ambulatory support for children who are unsteady on their feet.

“He hasn’t been working and you can tell he really wants to be with the patients,” said child life specialist Erika Zalecky, Dorian’s best friend and handler.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic Dorian has been sidelined as a precautionary measure, in the event someone who tests positive for the virus touches him and unwittingly transfers the virus.

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 healthcare.

Zalecky and child life specialist Anna Stephanz share duties with Dorian, covering for each other when has to be with patients without the presence of a dog. Dorian comes to work every weekday and is available when needed.

Lately, he has served as comfort to staff members who get to spend time with him in the child life office, where he lounges on his bed, plays with his toys, or waits for someone to take him outside.

“We’ve been taking lots of walks and eating a lot of peanut butter,” Erika says. “We try to maintain a routine and we have puzzles and toys to keep him working, cognitively. The walking counteracts the extra calories.” To date, Dorian has not gained weight as a result of his isolation.

On a recent afternoon, Dorian Skyped with staff on various unit floors after he and the child life team sent doughnuts as a mood lifter for the day.

“He was very popular,” Erika says. “One of the nurses was blowing him kisses.”

Until he can return to his pediatric patients, Dorian is happy to sleep, eat, and offer a kind glance to staff.

“He is always a big hit,” Erika says. “We hope to be back with patients soon.”

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