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Published on March 22, 2018

Ruff-reshing Recovery

When Harold Bauch stood gingerly and stretched out his right arm to flick a rope ring down a hallway, it was a big deal.

Bauch was about a week into his recovery from hip surgery, and the simple motion helped him start to get used to moving again. One of his therapists during the session was a bit out of the ordinary: an affable, floppy eared, black Labrador retriever named Sarge.

“I love him,” Bauch said. “At home I live with my cousins and they have these two puppies that are fantastic and I latched onto them. And what I do is I give them snacks and when the door opens downstairs they’re screaming and running over there to get their snacks.”

Bauch said playing with a dog, even though he’s working on recovering from surgery, gives him a taste of home.

Therapists at the Parkview Center for Rehabilitation on the third floor of Parkview Medical Center said having Sarge in a session can help perk up their patients, motivate them to work a bit harder and give them a different set of exercises.Sarge and patient

“With one of my patients, he had a really difficult time with range of motion, so we had the idea of picking up Cheerios and feeding them to Sarge,”said Occupational Therapist Gayla Pirtle.

Pirtle said the exercise helped the patient work on fine motor coordination in a unique way.

Pirtle is one of three therapists at Parkview who are trained to use Sarge in their sessions.

A variety of patients come through the Center, from those who’ve suffered a stroke and have limited movement in one side of their body to patients like Bauch, who’ve had surgery on their hips or knees and getting moving is critical.

Pirtle said the therapists typically screen their patients to be sure they’re comfortable working with a dog and rarely has anyone turned down the opportunity.

Sarge often brings the best out of his patients.

Pirtle said patients who work with Sarge often seem more motivated. They will walk farther or stand longer than usual because playing fetch or tug with a happy-go-lucky lab is a fun change of pace.

Recreational Therapist Kathleen Zeleny said in addition to the physical rehabilitation, she uses Sarge to put focus on other aspects of a patient’s recovery, from sensory stimulation to calming interaction with the dog.

Sarge and VolunteerSomething as simple as brushing Sarge can help patients achieve a calm relaxation that they need.

Zeleny, too, has seen how Sarge’s presence can help brighten a patient’s perspective.

“They see Sarge and they just light up,” she said.

Zeleny said she believe Sarge helps her patients gain confidence and improve during their sessions.

“He’s therapeutic as well,” she said. “I get to see them having fun and laughing. It’s so important to have Sarge here.”

Sarge has been at Parkview Medical Center for about a year and a half. He’s 2 ½ years old and is one of three labs owned and trained by Parkview Director of Data Governance Bobbie Blood.

Blood has been training show dogs since she was a child and it’s been a family activity for the last eight years since her daughter got interested.

“None of the dogs come to us with expectations that they be one thing or another,” she said. “The Labradors are trained to hunt waterfowl. The second thing is all of our dogs are trained to compete in obedience.”

Blood said Sarge stood out in his obedience training.

“Sarge really wants to connect with people,” she said. “He approaches people in the hallway and just sucks you in.”

That friendliness led to the idea that Sarge could serve as a therapy dog and do work beyond the passivity of past therapy dogs at Parkview.

So Blood started training Sarge to be more comfortable in a hospital environment, getting him used to things like walkers and wheelchairs and loud noises.

Pirtle, Zeleny and Robyn Baumgartner trained with Sarge and worked on techniques, commands and exercises, along with what to do in situations such as falls, which requires Sarge to get out of the way.

After about a month of training, Sarge hit the ground running. Since then he’s become an indispensable member of the Parkview team.

For Blood, there’s a sense of pride in watching Sarge work or make rounds throughout the hospital.

“It’s like being a proud mom,” she said. “Watching him work with patients is pretty special.”

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