Dogs Are Helping Hospitals Lift Spirits, Support Doctors And Aid Rehab

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Dogs Are Helping Hospitals Lift Spirits, Support Doctors And Aid Rehab
A four-legged addition to a Florida hospital is helping lift spirits and motivate kids.

The newest member of Orlando Health Hospital team isn't a doctor or nurse.

In fact, he's not even human. But, he's already making a difference with some impressive skills and his ability to capture hearts in the hallways.

Parks, a two-year-old labrador retriever, is the first "facility dog" for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. He trained with Canine Companions, an organization that provides its service and facility dogs at no cost. It has 475 active facility dog teams, with 70 of them now working in a hospital setting.

Now Parks works full time, Monday through Friday, visiting patients in the children’s hospital. His handler, child life specialist Kimberly Burbage says Parks knows dozens of commands to help patients and perform tasks, and he's learning even more ways to help, from brightening days to aiding in rehab.

"He's learned how to get into a wagon so that way the kids can pull him in that, so that’s a new command," Burbage said. "We’re working on getting kids things like bowling, working on getting a t-ball set that’s lightweight he can hold, hit the ball and play with the kids that way."

Parks graduated from his training program after months of learning to help patients, including tasks specialized to a hospital like moving around beds, pulling wheelchairs or picking up dropped items.

These dogs are different from many other therapy dogs because they undergo more training to be able to help either the person they’re working with or the place they’re working in.

So if you are looking at your own pet right now and thinking about their potential training, the training manager at Canine Companions advises: Be consistent, start early and have clear expectations.