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DECATUR, Ill. (AP) – The dental office doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating, especially when Bob is around.
The lanky, hairy Goldendoodle comfort dog is a welcome member of the Central Illinois Smiles team who care for their patients.
Bob trudges from room to room wherever he is needed. Like any loyal and busy employee, he responds to a call by his name or a simple yell, ready to get to work.
“He greets everyone at the door,” said its owner, Dr. Katie Buskirk. “He likes to go around saying ‘hello’ to everyone waiting in the chair. But most of the time he just puts a smile on people’s faces. “
When 38-year-old Buskirk began practicing Smiles at Central Illinois on North Woodford Street in Decatur more than a year ago, she brought Hazel, another therapy dog, with her. Hazel passed away two weeks ago at the age of 10. Bob entered the practice in October.
Buskirk worked in a community health center for 11 years before starting her private practice two years ago. And Hazel was one of the first to be brought into the pack.
Buskirk and her dogs are members of PawPrint Ministries, a team of trained comfort dogs. Hazel was certified almost six years ago so that she can visit people in facilities that need support and comfort. She and Buskirk visited nursing homes, fundraisers, and a free dental clinic. “She kept people calm and happy,” Buskirk said.
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At just one year old, Bob was new to the job. His training continues both at home and in the office.
“He’s like a baby moose. He’s got all the arms and legs, ”Buskirk said. “But he will also sit with his chin on the crying chest of a child. It’s kind of a natural instinct for him. He is a great treasure. “
According to Buskirk, Bob is a hypoallergenic dog and is kept away from equipment and other materials used in the patient’s mouth. For those who don’t like dogs or are allergic, Bob keeps his distance. “Then it will be closed in my office,” said Buskirk.
The reactions were positive. “People feel at home,” said Buskirk.
Dental anxiety is common in both adults and children, which can deter patients from visiting the dentist, Buskirk said. “One of the studies shows that their greatest concern is that they are sitting in the lobby waiting for their return or waiting in the chair for the doctor,” Buskirk said. “Then Bob comes in.”
Patients with disabilities, including autism, frequently visit the dental office. The comfort dogs provided the necessary support and rest during a stressful event. Hazel was able to lie down on a nervous patient’s lap. “We had one parent say that their child had never undergone a complete clean,” Buskirk said. “We cried all day.”
Jennifer Dahn, founder of PawPrint Ministries, has worked with comfort dogs and their owners across central Illinois since 2014.
Before COVID-19 facilities closed to the public, comfort dogs visited nursing homes, hospitals, cancer centers, and behavioral health centers. “As soon as it becomes a little safer to be outside, we can pick up our routine visits,” said Dahn.
In the meantime, the dogs will provide their love and comfort in other ways, including visiting windows, posing for pictures, and sharing encouraging notes transcribed by their owners. “We try to reach safely whenever we can,” Dahn said.
The lack of interaction is heartbreaking not only for the customers but also for the dogs. The animals are used to greeting people with hugs and kisses. “We went from hundreds to zero,” Dahn said of customer interactions. “The highlight of my dog’s day was when the UPS man showed up at our house.”
According to Dahn, you need a special temperament to become a comfort dog. Community service is part of the job. “A dog that makes a living from pleasing its owner and seeing lots of people or personalities,” Dahn said of the dog’s personality.
PawPrint Ministries recently started offering training for new comfort dogs. “It is important that our dogs are well trained and behave well when they go out and prepare for work,” Dahn said. “It is important to us that the people we serve are also safe.”
Bob is one of the lucky ones who is still busy.
“He doesn’t know otherwise,” said Buskirk.
Source: The (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/3a3SNsV
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