January 11, 2021
A therapy dog in Baltimore is bringing joy to healthcare workers and patients, alike, by making digital visits, Good Morning America reports.
Loki, a two-year-old Rottweiler therapy dog is known for comforting patients each week at the University of Maryland Medical Center. But when the coronavirus pandemic prevented therapy dogs from visiting the hospital, Loki and her owner, Caroline Benzel, had to figure out a creative way to reach and develop rapport with patients.
So, Benzel came up with the idea of remote therapy dog visits. “I’ll Facetime [while Loki and are sitting] outside … in my mom’s front yard,” Benzel told GMA.
She said that she tells patients to close their eyes and imagine a different scene outside the confines of the hospital, telling them, “Imagine sitting at a park and we’re having a conversation so they can ‘hear’ the birds, they can see people walking by. So that’s kind of how we’ve been doing it now.”
Benzel, who is a second-year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, started training Loki when she was just 18 weeks old. Then, she got Loki acclimated to the hospital’s environment and patients.
Benzel has describes her pup as a natural at her job. “I’ve never met a dog that’s so empathetic. It’s kind of strange. There have been many circumstances at the hospital where she can just read a situation where a patient is in a very bad way or a family member is going through a loss,” Benzel told GMA.
Before COVID-19 hit, Benzel would also dress Loki in a signature white “dogtor’s” coat that was custom-made for every hospital visit with patients.
Since transitioning to remote visits, Benzel and Loki also have had a chance to connect with hospital staff—and Benzel has noticed the painful physical effects caused by the masks that healthcare workers now wear.
“I was seeing the masks doing the damage to the nursing staff, the doctors, the social workers, because everyone, custodians to doctors are all required to wear it,” Benzel said.
She thought of ways that she could help those experiencing the issue and came up with care packages called Hero Healing Kits. The kits, which have Loki’s face on them, include products like hypoallergenic lotion for irritated skin, packs of gum to help with dry mouth, medicated powder to help with skin irritation, Vaseline, and tea and coffee packets. Each kit also has a thank you note with messages of appreciation for hospital staff during this time.
With the help of her neighbor, Benzel has put together about 1,400 kits so far and medical students have raised $300 to $400. The kits have become so popular, a medical student in Philadelphia also started the Hero Healing Initiative there. Benzel has also expanded and has created kits for neighboring hospitals.
The kits were also a way for Benzel to give back to the medical community, after members stood by her when Loki recently had to undergo ACL surgery for a broken foot, which required cash up front.
“I didn’t know how I was going to come up with that kind of money as a medical student,” Benzel said. “The hospital staff [at UMMC] suggested I do a GoFundMe, and the whole surgery and physical therapy ended up being covered by donations within two weeks.”
“They did that for me when I was down and I know the people there are going through a hard time now. themselves. I wanted to do what I could to return the favor,” she added.
Research contact: @GMA