Every Thursday, Maggie Crawford outfits her golden retriever, Kai, in a harness and a neckerchief adorned with four gold stars. After that come the name badges, which identify Kai as a dog with a mission. “ID#59773—Pet Assisted Therapy at Huntington,” one badge reads.
By the time the day is done, Crawford and Kai will have made their weekly rounds at Huntington Hospital, through the pediatric unit and the brain mapping department where patients’ seizures are tracked. They will have stopped by the medical records office to visit employees more than happy to ignore the filing long enough to sneak in a hug or a scratch behind the soft folds of Kai’s ears.
“When a dog walks in, the world becomes more normal,” said Crawford, who lives in Pasadena. “It brings a piece of the outside world into an otherwise sterile environment—the mood in the room totally changes.”
Kai is one of 35 therapy dogs who regularly visit patients, visitors and staff members at Huntington Hospital through the facility’s Pet Assisted Therapy program. Designed to cheer and comfort people in need of companionship, program volunteers visit nearly every department except the ER and maternity ward, says Crawford, who co-founded the group 24 years ago.