Monday, June 22, 2009

Retired Guide Finds Her New Career to be Therapeutic

Mastering a couple of different careers may seem daunting to you and me, but our Guide Dogs manage to do it all the time! Yellow Lab Freida, retired guide for GDB Board member Vickie Kennedy, took on a new career as a "Patient Visitation/Therapy Dog" at Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu after retiring from guidework. The hospital has since dubbed her weekly visits as "Freida Fridays." She also pays weekly therapy visits to St. Francis Hospice, and was recently named the center's “Volunteer of the Year.” Vickie and her husband, Jim, send this news about Frieda's accomplishments:

We are so proud of Freida. We get soooooo much pleasure seeing the instantaneous grin that comes across a patient’s face when Freida walks in. At first they are surprised, even stunned sometimes, that a dog is even entering their room, but then they usually shift to being joyful that this precious “little girl” is coming to see them.
Freida with her Volunteer of the Year award.
We spend most of the day on Fridays at Queen’s Medical Center. We start off with a list of about 10 patients from the Pain and Palliative Care unit (patients experiencing serious or terminal cancer, or who have had major trauma), but as we move from floor to floor, the nurses and doctors we encounter usually request that we visit with additional patients in other care units (ICU, Heart ICU, Cardiac Recovery, etc.). By the end of the day, we generally see between 25 and 35 patients. I think the most Freida has seen in a day at Queen’s was about 37. Our patient visits at Queen’s usually average between 3 and 5 minutes, but some can just be quick hellos, while others might last as long at 45 minutes.

Here is how Freida does her “thing”: Just before we walk into a patient’s room, we say, “Freida, let’s go see a friend!” She gets all excited - the word “friend” really energizes her. She prances in with a wiggle, and a huge, wide grin, then approaches the patient with a lick and kiss. They usually pat her on the head, and grin from ear to ear. Freida is basically an ice breaker for conversation. As we start to chat, Freida settles down and lays on the floor near the bed. (Although with her paws cleaned with antiseptic wipes just beforehand, Freida is even allowed on a patient’s bed if there are not too many tubes or wire attached; however, she has probably only done this maybe a dozen times in 18 months... and only in exceptional situations where the patient REALLY asks for it). The longer we talk with a patient, the better for Freida as her “batteries” get to recharge. As we get ready to leave, Freida knows by experience that our body language or verbal queues indicate that we are about ready to go. She then hops up and again approaches the patient for a goodbye lick or kiss, or pat on the head.

We take lunch and potty breaks, and Freida gets lots of healthy treats (carrots and non-salt rice cakes) along the way. In addition to all the patients Freida visits, she sees between 30 and 50 staff at Queen’s as well. The doctors and nurses need their therapy visits as much as the patients!

Freida also sees several patients each week at St. Francis Hospice and St. Francis Hospice West, where she is quite the celebrity. She's had her picture taken with a home hospice patient for their annual report, and was filmed for inclusion in a TV commercial about their services here in Hawaii. She was also named as "Volunteer of the Year," for which he received an etched wooden plaque, a hand-made lei with a bunch of little dog bones, and a $50 gift certificate to Longs. Is that cool or what?Freida rocks!!

At the end of the day, the grin on Freida's face tells us she is a happy dog. Even on her last visit of the day, her tail is wagging furiously. Our “little girl” is just unbelievable. As blessed as we have been in our lives, this experience a few dozen times a week is the greatest feeling we have ever experienced.


  1. This story sounds very familiar - my dog and I visit Dodd Hall at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Dodd is the long term rehab center, where they are well enough to be out of a hospital setting but not well enough to be home. I started my blog to keep track and Chelsie's visits. I could not have described a typical visit any better - the staff always tells Chelsie how theraputic she is for them. She is very proud to trot through the halls wearing her ID badge and vest. I am very, very proud of the work she does and the smiles she brings to patients faces weekly.

    What a good girl Freida is!

  2. How fun to hear an update on Freida's next career!

  3. This is just a lovely story about Frieda. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love the idea of Frieda Fridays.