An Award-Winning Pup Works at Boston Medical Center
At Boston Medical Center, clinicians and medical professionals roam the halls—as does a team of therapy dogs.
The 12-dog team, called the Healing Pups, visits BMC patients all over the hospital, offering comfort and an escape from medical care. The program began with two dogs in 2012, says Director of Patient Advocacy and Healing Pups handler Sheryl Katzanek, and has grown steadily over the years, especially after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
And while all dozen dogs are beloved by patients and staff, a golden retriever named Sarge won a special honor this month. Sarge, a retired seizure dog handled by Director of Epilepsy Services Georgia Montouris, has been recognized as one of Milk-Bone’s “Dogs Who Changed the World.”
Stories about Sarge highlight his influence. In one anecdote, Montouris recalls Sarge’s effect on a mostly non-verbal patient with autism, with whom she had worked for years.
“He [the patient] initially wasn’t sure if he wanted to pet Sarge, and then ultimately came over and petted him and then looked at me and said, ‘I really like your dog,'” Montouris remembers. “I said, ‘What?’ because I had never heard him say a sentence. He repeated it and then gave me a high-five. It was an extremely touching thing that the dog was able to reach him.”
In another instance, Montouris says, a patient with a developmental delay was making a lot of noise in the waiting room. When Sarge left Montouris’ office, she guessed it was because the pitch was too much for him. Instead, Sarge went into the waiting room to seek out the patient and offer comfort.
Sarge may be in the spotlight right now, but all 12 of the Healing Pups have become fixtures at the hospital, where they’re beloved by patients and staff. At least one dog is on duty every day, with the team ranging from a small Boston terrier named Charlie to the group’s newest addition, a 168-pound English mastiff named Miles.
“We are forever humbled at the work that these dogs do,” Katzanek says. “Some of these dogs have been asked to be present at end of life. We never foresaw that happening.”
Montouris adds that seeing Sarge and other dogs bring comfort to those in need is the most fulfilling part of the Healing Pups program.
“Just seeing the joy and comfort that this dog gives to people is very rewarding,” Montouris says. “It’s truly heartwarming to know that he can make a difference in somebody’s life.”