10 months ago

West Newsmagazine 5-24-17

Local news, local politics and community events for West St. Louis County Missouri.


52 I COVER STORY I May 24, 2017 WEST NEWSMAGAZINE @WESTNEWSMAG WESTNEWSMAGAZINE.COM All in a day’s work At Ranken Jordan, one special therapist proves to be a true champ By BRIAN FLINCHPAUGH Murphy doesn’t mind if his ears are pulled, hair is mussed or if the hugs around his neck are bit tight – it’s all in a day’s work. Truth is, he likes getting physical and he dishes out some affection of his own with a lick to the face or hand. The three-yearold yellow Labrador retriever works with children facing serious medical challenges – and sometimes with their parents – at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in Maryland Heights. His job might be likened to someone who can hold hands, although in his case, holding out a paw may be more appropriate. Lauri Tanner, the chief executive officer for Ranken Jordan, said Murphy proves his worth every day. He arrived last June after completing his training with CHAMP Assistance Dogs, Inc., a nonprofit organization, whose executive director, Pam Budke, also is chairman of the board for the West County Chamber of Commerce. CHAMP stands for Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities and Murphy is living up to the name. He works with Tanner and other hospital personnel to use his special skills as a facility dog – doling out comfort, assistance and hope. Nola Ewers, director of CHAMP’s assistance dog program, said the trick is finding the right dogs – ones that have an “impeccable temperament” and “take everything in stride.” Ewers said several breeders in Columbia, Missouri, provide some of the organization’s dogs, who are initially trained and socialized by University of Missouri students. Murphy and a Ranken Jordan patient The dogs have to be taught largely by voice command and the training program involves building a bond with the dog. The idea is getting the dog to want to work for you, Ewers said. The training is, kept light and engaging. As the dogs get older, they are evaluated to see what might be their best role. Dogs that work in a public setting have to be curious but confident to the point that nothing phases them. Promising animals get intense and advanced training from female inmates at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri. The training starts at about eight weeks and can take several years. Finding the right handler to take over the dog is almost as important as finding the right dog. The handler has to show a tremendous amount of consistency in his or her command of the animal. Some people are good with animals, but not as handlers, Ewers said. Others simply have the knack. Worth the wait Ewers said her group is getting more requests for facility, and other, dogs. “People see the success, they see the impact the dogs have on children, not just in the courthouse, but with dogs like Murphy at Ranken Jordan,” she said. The hospital waited four years for a facility dog. Murphy, who was born three years ago on New Year’s Eve, was worth the wait. “He’s very motivating and he just brightens everyone’s day,” Tanner said. Murphy isn’t rattled easily, he likes people and is affectionate and approachable. His day can include two hours of petting therapy for children. He helps with enforcing the hospital’s treatment model of getting young patients out of bed and physically active. That can include helping teenagers who are depressed or in pain to get out of bed, or prompting kids to work harder during physical therapy sessions by simply being playful around them. “They [the kids] are just having fun, not realizing it’s real therapy,” Tanner said. Murphy is a calming presence for kids with high blood pressure and those who have seizures; with others, he’s happy to take walks; and he plays catch with kids who need help with their motor skills and strength. “He’ll play catch for eight solid hours if you want to,” said Tanner. But how long Murphy really can work is a bit of an unknown. “The dog will kind of let people know if it’s tired or doesn’t want to work,” Ewer said. “Eventually [Murphy may] get to the point where he would rather lay on the couch just like the rest of us and not want to go to work,” said Tanner, who is Murphy’s chief handler and takes him home every night. “Right now, he’ll tear out of the house each morning.” Tanner said some of Murphy’s work deals with special cases. For instance, a therapist might allow Murphy to snuggle with a child who has difficulty maintaining body temperature. Reportedly, he’s warmer than blankets. He’s also helpful in healing the mind. “He’s such an emotional support,” Tanner said. An example is Murphy’s work with a recent out-of-town patient, the only survivor of an auto accident that killed his parents. “Six years old from Nashville, he sustained a cervical spine injury, but really what he sustained worse than that was a broken heart. So we had to try to heal his heart first before we could begin the therapy of helping him through his cervical spine injury and get him up walking and doing all the things a 6-year-old should do. And [Murphy] was his big buddy,” said Tanner. “The greatest compensation I could ever have as a CEO is that I have the pleasure of living with Murphy,” said Tanner. “You should hear the kids squeal when I’m walking out at the end of the night. No one asks me how I am anymore. They talk to Lauri Tanner with Murphy and a Ranken Jordan patient Murphy or they ask, ‘Where is Murphy?’ He is the king.” Even the construction workers building an addition to the hospital know Murphy, she said. “We call him the chief puppy officer, so he’s an executive,” Tanner said. “He participates in meetings and sleeps through them or tries to play through them. He’s just added such a dynamic element to our organization.” Having a dog like Murphy around an office, whether to work with kids or not, is not a bad idea. “It’s a positive part of your day, he’s such a self-esteem booster, he makes you feel good about yourself,” Tanner said. Ranken Jordan received Murphy at no cost, although ongoing care and support are provided by the organization that receives them usually, through a grant. Each facility dog would cost about $15,000 to $24,000 to train if all expenses were calculated, Ewer said. CHAMP is one of several local not-forprofit organizations that train dogs for a variety of tasks. It has placed 69 dogs since 1998.

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