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Therapy dogs comfort staff at University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic

Blue, Trotter, and Kid work to comfort staff after a long day on the COVID unit.

CLEVELAND — Between the sound of ventilators, the beeping a heart monitors and the shuffle of feet on a hospital floor, you might also hear the joy of seeing a dog. It's all thanks to the Facility Dog unit at Cleveland Clinic and the Pet Pals Program at University Hospitals.

Trotter and Kid work at the Clinic, while Melena, Pace, Ira and Blue work at UH.

"Trotter is a little cuddle bug. She'll bury her head in your lap, and she wants al the pets," says Trotter's handler Rachel Hartjen.

Their programs are fairly new, making the hospital less scary for patients -- especially kids. But there are heroes at our local hospitals who need support, too.

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"We have a code here. It's called Code Lavender. It's when staff has had a particularly stressful day, and the hospital will bring them lunch and bring them candy," explains UH Pet Pal Program director Diane Pekarek. "And they recently asked Pet Pals to be a part of Code Lavender. So when staff is having a really tough day, I will bring a dog to them, the staff."

Blue, Trotter, and Kid have the special job of comforting healthcare workers after a long day working the COVID unit. 

"There's one nurse in the ICU, and after they had a hard case she said that her boss asked if she needed support and what they could do to debrief and she said, 'I just need the dogs,'" Hartjen says.

Heroes helping heroes, in their toughest moments on the job.

"They're tired, they're exhausted. Some will hug on them and just cry. The dogs are wonderful and they'll absorb all those tears," Pekarek says.

"They give us unconditional love, everybody's always excited to see them. And I feel like they help to reduce some of the stress and health and caregivers are going through right now," says Trotter's handler, Molly Gross.

It's gratitude for the dogs, whose love extends far past hospital walls.

"People thank me for what I do and I'm the one that's thankful, because I get to see the reaction," Pekarek smiles.

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