Who's a good boy?
Bailey — that's who. When the lovable English Springer Spaniel turned 9 years old, he passed the rigorous test to become a therapy pet. Today, he walks the halls of Sharp Grossmont Hospital — and holds court in the lobby — to cheer up patients, visitors and employees.
Now age 12 (that's 84 in people years), he's known as "Mr. Mellow," with just the demeanor he needs to put people at ease and create happiness wherever he goes.
"If people are smiling, he's doing his job," says owner Judy Prevatte.
While patient visits are the mainstay of Bailey's volunteer hours, he also hosts "In the Lobby With Bailey" every Wednesday afternoon. His time spent in the hospital's front entrance area captures the hearts of those walking in and out, from visitors to staff members. Belly rubs, pats on the head and forehead kisses abound, and demonstrate how the presence of a friendly canine can bring calm and joy to a hospital.
The right fit
"I always knew I wanted him to be a therapy dog," says Judy. Her late husband, a Navy veteran who worked with military dogs, put Bailey through obedience training. When Judy's husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, their dog's devotion was a clue as to what he'd end up doing.
"Bailey never left his side," Judy says.
She knew Bailey would be a natural around other patients, and eventually enrolled him with American Therapy Pets, Inc. The training ensures the dogs behave in all situations and around all kinds of people before they become official therapy pets.
"They have to learn to be comfortable around distractions such as people on crutches or in wheelchairs; to know that they can't touch or eat medicine; and to not respond to other dogs. They have to be able to be left alone in a room, without moving, when told to stay," says Judy.
Visiting patients is a responsibility that both Judy and Bailey take very seriously. "It's all about us as a team," says Judy. "He can't talk, so I channel things through him. Sometimes we'll go into a patient room and he'll come out sooner than normal if he senses someone isn't receptive — but he also knows a dog person when he meets one. That's very important."
Dog about town
Bailey's no one-trick dog, either. One of his other favorite places is the Alpine Library, where he serves as part of their Ruff Reader program. Children of all ages and reading levels show up to read to Bailey in 15-minute increments; he prefers dog stories but doesn't tell the kids. While some children with lower reading skills might be reluctant to read out loud, it's a different story with Bailey.
"There's no judgement if you read too slow or too fast, or mispronounce a word," says Judy. "He just sits and listens." Some of the children read and pet him at the same time, taking their mind off of the scrutiny they might otherwise feel, and also benefiting from the calming presence of their four-legged tutor.
As a tribute to her late husband's military service, she and Bailey also greet new Marine recruits coming through the USO at San Diego International Airport, as well as the war veterans returning from their Honor Flight, where they visited the Washington, D.C. memorial of the specific war in which they served.
Everyone's best friend
Back at an "In the Lobby With Bailey" day, a steady parade of admirers stopped to say hello. Nurse Sandra Wisler was done for the day, so what better reward for providing great patient care than to visit with and hug Bailey. "I love dogs and he's such a cuddler," says Sandra.
Visitor Sara Simcock, who was coming to visit her young son in the hospital, also stopped to pet Bailey. After spending some time with Bailey, she began to talk about her son, who was on the mend from being very ill. After explaining her son's condition and how scary it had been, she asked his handler, "Hey, do you think you could bring this guy up to meet my son? He would love it."
And with that, Bailey got up, stretched his front legs and set off down the hallway on another goodwill mission.