ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Employees and patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital are going mutts over the hospital's newest employee — a 2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever named Brea.
Brea is the hospital's first facility dog. Leah Frohnerath, a child life specialist and Brea's facility dog handler, says the four-legged friend will help be there for kids who are stressed or struggling and act as a source of comfort.
"She has 40 different commands that we use together. We may link them together to have her do different things with the rehab department or speech therapy or just helping kids ambulate through the hospital," said Frohnerath. "Helping kids get their pokes, she’ll sit right there next to them. Today, she even laid with a young man as he got sedation with an anesthesia mask. She laid right next to help until he fell fast asleep for his test.”
Brea was trained by Canine Companions for Independence in Orlando. Cathlene Kirkpatrick, Brea's trainer, explained how the dog is expertly trained to help assist Frohnerath at the hospital.
“[Facility dogs] utilize things like tug, that’s where Brea can grab on to a strap that’s either on a door or maybe on the other end of a child working on balance or stability with a physical therapist," said Kirkpatrick. "Physical therapy can be kind of boring, but when a dog is on the other end of that, it’s much more rewarding and you can see a lot more benefits with therapy.”
Frohnerath told ABC Action News Brea can also do things like demonstrate how to get up on an MRI and knows how to put on a bonnet when she has to do a sterile procedure.
“Brea has a way of connecting with people and kids in a way that people can’t sometimes," said Frohnerath. "She gives an unconditional love. She is willing to do just about anything to help somebody smile. She provides an emotional support that no human being can do sometimes. She makes a connection where connections are hard to make sometimes.”
Frohnerath said the pooch is paid for her hard work in kibble, pets, and praise. She also shared a personal connection with the work Brea will do at the hospital.
“Growing up with a disability, I spent a lot of time doing therapies and visiting doctors,” said Frohnerath. “My parents introduced me to the concept of animal-assisted therapy at six years old through a horseback riding program and I benefitted greatly from the therapy and positive influence of the horses. Since then, I have made every effort in my life and career to facilitate these magic moments and incognito therapeutic interventions between human and animal, and particularly dogs through my work facilitating Pet Therapy here at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.”
The hospital shared facility dogs must get special certifications through a national standardized practical test and return for follow-up assessments on a periodic basis. They said handlers must also finish a two-week, full-time training course.
“I am extremely excited for Brea to be a part of our team. Although we have only been working together for just over a month, I am already stunned by Brea’s ability to make connections with patients," Frohnerath said. "She has made painful procedures tolerable, even enjoyable for our patients, and helped staff bolster their energy to do the amazing work that they do.”
Brea and her handler’s services are funded through Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation gifts from the Zimmerman Family Foundation as well as the 2020 Pup Cup 5k, a virtual run and community fundraiser supporting facility dogs.
According to a release, Canine Companions for Independence has been training dogs for nearly 44 years. The estimated cost of a highly trained facility dog like Brea, including all follow-up support, is $50,000 but each dog is provided free of charge.