By Margo Greenman
Hospital emergencies and even routine check-ups can be scary at any age, but for children getting their first glimpse of the exam table, a trip to the doctor’s office can be an especially nerve wracking experience. However, Lakewood’s Fir Creek Pediatrics has a remedy for this. Their solution? Teddy the therapy dog.
Whether putting a smile on the face of a frightened patient or calming down a worried parent (belly rubs are therapeutic for both dogs and humans, you know?), 6-year-old Rottweiler and resident therapy dog, Teddy, is literally just what the doctor ordered.
Michelle “Miki” Hayes, ARNP, opened Fir Creek Pediatrics in 2000, as a place to help children with special healthcare needs. Her personalized approach to healthcare is one that has included everything from in-home visits to the cuddly clinic atmosphere provided by her four-legged helper.
After working as a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Madigan Army Medical Center, Miki returned to school to become an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) after a car accident, which fractured three of her vertebrae, left her unable to return to her physically demanding job. Miki graduated from the University of Washington in 1995, with a Master’s of Nursing. Specializing as a pediatric nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist for children, Miki went on to work at a local clinic for several years before deciding to implement her unique, personalized and holistic approach to healthcare into her own practice at Fir Creek Pediatrics.
“I wanted to focus on prevention, development, and helping children grow into happy little people,” explains Miki. And this is precisely what she does.
Providing personalized care for each of her patients, comfort has always been a priority of Miki’s. And not just for her patients, but for their families, too. “I want my patients to feel as though they are coming to visit their mom’s friend,” explains Miki. “And what’s better than coming to visit your mom’s friend than when your mom’s friend has a dog?” she asks.
This is where Teddy comes in. Although, Teddy isn’t the first therapy dog Fir Creek Pediatrics has seen over the years. With an average lifespan of nine years, Teddy is one of several therapy Rottweilers Fir Creek Pediatrics has “employed.” It all started when Miki was trying to think of ways to make her patients feel more comfortable during their visits. “Dogs don’t judge kids or tell them what to do,” says Miki. “Dogs are fun. They help tone down that whole ‘scary doctor’ visit kind of feeling that kids may have. That’s what made me think to do it,” she says.
While all of Fir Creek Pediatrics’ therapy dogs have been an asset to the clinic, there’s something special about Teddy. Teddy, or Mr. Ted, as Miki sometimes calls him, came to her at just 8-weeks-old from a breeder in Idaho. The breeder specializes in breeding Rottweilers that are known for having sweet temperaments. Many of them end up being therapy dogs like Teddy, or go on to become service or even show dogs.
Becoming a therapy dog requires rigorous training and a series of tests, all of which Teddy is familiar with, as he passed both of his with flying colors. The tests Teddy was required to pass before he could carry out his therapeutic duties at the clinic included the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Program, which is a rigorous evaluation that determines whether a dog is steady, stable and sociable around people (including strangers and children), and the Therapy Dogs International test.
In his role at Fir Creek Pediatrics, Teddy does everything from escorting patients and their families to their room to joining Miki and her patients on the exam table where her patients can do everything from hold a stethoscope up to Teddy’s chest to hear his heartbeat or peer under his floppy ears with an otoscope. Miki says this helps distract her patients during what can sometimes be scary procedures. Allowing her patients to hold the instruments in their hands and even test them out on Teddy helps reduce the fear factor often associated with the exam room.
But, Teddy isn’t just there to help patients. He helps worried parents and family members, too. “Teddy sits down next to who he thinks need him the most,” explains Miki, “and that’s not always the patient.” Miki says people also like to talk to Teddy. This is something she attributes to the calming energy he gives off. Miki says Teddy’s calming nature has also been a real asset when working with kids who have autism. “Sometimes kids have disclosed things to Teddy that the parents didn’t know was going on. It kind of takes your breath away,” she says.
At 6-years-old, Miki says Teddy is “semi-retired.” Because of this, Teddy isn’t the only dog hanging around Fir Creek Pediatrics.
Along with Teddy, Miki also brings her therapy-dog-in-training, Scout, into the office with her. Both Miki and her staff work with Scout, teaching him to stay calm and not to bark. While not all of Miki’s Rottweilers have become therapy dogs, she’s hoping, with more training, that Scout will able to carry on the tradition. Fir Creek Pediatrics in Lakewood is accepting new patients and takes most forms of health insurance. To learn more about Fir Creek Pediatrics and Teddy the therapy dog, visit Fir Creek Pediatrics’ website here.
All photos courtesy of Fir Creek Pediatrics.