HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – She’s cute, she’s cuddly, and she’s helping sick kids.
Kaia, a 20-month-old golden retriever, is the first facility dog stationed at a children’s hospital in Pennsylvania.
Different from a therapy dog, Kaia’s main goal at Penn State Hershey Medical Center is to make patients more comfortable. But they’re not the only ones benefiting.
“I hear it from a distance,” her handler, Ashley Kane, said. “Like, ‘There’s Kaia! That’s Kaia!”
She’s a familiar sight in an unfamiliar place. “Still pretty new,” Kane, the hospital’s Child Life program manager, said.
“Just walking in a room with her, your heart rate comes down, your stress level decreases,” hospital employee Desi Albright said.
That’s Kaia’s strength, and she’s showing it in just her third week on the job.
“Just seeing people’s faces light up around her,” Albright said. “Not just our patients, but our visitors and our volunteers and our staff.”
The hospital says the puppy will primarily help kids in radiology and radiation oncology. Tuesday, Kane guided her onto a scanning table under a big machine. Kaia will show kids it’s not as scary as it looks.
“Maybe feel like they don’t need to have sedation or be asleep during their tests,” Kane said of potential patients’ reactions, “because they saw Kaia do it.”
The pup is opening doors to new interactions for patients. “They can give hugs in a way that I guess a human can’t,” hospital volunteer Mimi Walker said.
She’s also changing Kane’s outlook.
“You know, eight months ago, I don’t think I would have thought about having a dog with me every day at the hospital,” she said. “But it makes perfect sense.”
“I could list all day about the best parts of having Kaia at work,” secondary handler Alicia Cesare said.
She’s just a dog being a dog, spending the latter part of Tuesday morning chasing a ball in a hospital courtyard. “Dogs need a little bit of time to decompress from all the work she’s doing in the hospital,” Kane said.
All in a day’s work.
“And having just this common good thing walking around in a place where so many bad things can happen,” Albright said.