If you have noticed two furry four-legged employees around the hospital, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. At the end of February following Child Life’s explosive gender reveal, Texas Children’s new therapy dog began walking the halls and immediately putting smiles on employees, patients and visitors faces.
Bailey is an 18-month-old golden retriever that wears a green vest with her Texas Children’s badge, and a red bow attached. She is part of Texas Children’s Pawsitive Play Program that uses animal-assisted therapy to enhance the emotional well-being of pediatric patients by reducing their anxiety, perception of pain and fear of hospitalization.
Bailey offers distraction and motivation to patients undergoing certain medical procedures, but it’s not just her that aids in this process. Her handler, Adair Galanski, is a Texas Children’s child life specialist who collaborates with medical teams and physical and occupational therapists to visit with five to ten patients each day who are having a particularly difficult time during their hospitalization.
“We go and see families for a lot of different things, whether it’s medical procedures, emotional support, or maybe something even more complicated than that,” said Galanski. “The minute Bailey comes through the door, even if a family was really frustrated or if a child was crying, or if they had just received devastating news, everyone gets excited. They say, ‘Oh my gosh, is that a dog? Is it here to see me? That’s amazing!’”
Recently, Bailey took a small tour around the hospital to become more acclimated with patients and her co-workers. Her first stop was to meet Texas Children’s President and CEO, Mark Wallace. He and his wife, Shannon, recently donated Bailey as a gift to Texas Children’s Pawsitive Play Program in memory of their beloved dog, Cadence.
Their generous pledge and initial $80,000 contribution to the program will enable Texas Children’s to hire more animal-assisted therapy coordinator and therapy dog teams specifically trained to provide therapeutic interventions to patients and families in Legacy Tower.
As soon as Wallace laid eyes on Bailey he knew she was a perfect fit for Texas Children’s.
“Bailey, you come from a good family and now you’ve got a great family here at Texas Children’s,” Wallace said. “We’re going to take good care of you, and you’re going to help our patients feel better and relax, and feel loved and nurtured.”
Just like any other employee, Wallace greeted her with the warmest welcome, encouragement, and motivation to succeed in helping patients and their families.
“You’re going to help take their minds off of not feeling real good, and you’re going to be there, even to help their mommy and their daddy, maybe their grandma and grandpa, maybe their brothers or sisters,” Wallace said. “You’re an important part of this one amazing team that we have at Texas Children’s.”
After breaking the ice with the boss, Bailey’s next stop was meeting up with, what employees refer to as, her big sister. According to Galanski, normally at the beginning of most of their days, she and Bailey will visit with child life specialist and animal-assisted therapy coordinator, Sarah Herbek, and Elsa, Texas Children’s first therapy dog. This quality time allows the hospital’s canine kids to spend time with each other as well as bond more with their handlers.
“She has a great relationship with Elsa and I love that I get to work with her all the time. It’s like therapy for me too,” Galanski said. “You just can’t ever really have a bad day when you’re with her.”
Following the brief playdate, Bailey headed to spend some time with Texas Children’s patients. A normal visit with Bailey usually involves the patients taking her for a walk, playing with toys, or feeding her treats whenever she is not soothing their pain or fear. Engaging in any activity with Bailey can change a patient’s entire day.
“As much as I love my job, and think I’m good at what I do, I can never have that same connection with families that Bailey brings,” Galanski said. “Bailey is that peacemaker and that bridge for us to be able to really connect with kids who might not want to connect through words, but can connect through her.”
Although Bailey has already started seeing heart and critical care patients, she was hired on to work specifically in the hospital’s newest expansion, Legacy Tower. The doors of the first phase of Legacy Tower will open to patients, families, and employees like Bailey on Tuesday, May 22.
She will be groomed weekly and her paws will be wiped down daily. Patients who are allergic to dogs will not be consulted and the dog will not go into patient rooms without first receiving verbal permission from a guardian and the medical team.
“I love what I do, and I love her, so I want to tell everyone about her. I want everyone to experience Bailey,” Galanski said. “I want everyone to have a little piece of unconditional love that she gets to bring to everybody.”
If you see Bailey around the hospital, feel free to greet her and make her feel welcome. She loves belly rubs and snuggling with the patients, but when you come in contact with her in the halls and call her name, she’ll wag her tail enthusiastically to show her appreciation and excitement to be part of the Texas Children’s family.