LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – Sable the Golden Retriever celebrates one year of service as a facility dog at UMC Children’s Hospital.
Along with her service animal halter leash, her collar jingles as she trots, alerting every patient that their favorite medical “dog” is on the way.
Ashley Gilbreath says she’s become a fixture at the hospital.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in the hospital with Eliseo without seeing Sable, like never before,” Gilbreath said.
Sable models are still for patients, preparing for a procedure, helping with physical therapy and providing comfort when families hear a difficult diagnosis. Ashley Gilbreath’s son Eliseo was diagnosed with leukemia in February at the age of 11. Since then, his family has been in and out of the hospital.
“Being able to play with her, pet her, it feels safe, you know. For him, it’s normal. She kind of takes his mind off ‘I’m having chemo right now'” , she said.
Child life specialist Hannah Boyd is his mistress, working 40 hours a week alongside her best friend.
“I like to say Sable is magical. I don’t really know, there’s something about her that makes patients feel comfortable and safe. Every day I witness this sacred bond between an injured child and Sable and it never gets old,” Boyd said.
Sable has a “pen paw program,” writing to patients who send her letters. It also helps to motivate patients during mobility exercises.
“He is a companion for them. It gives them a sense of control, like you know, “I don’t really want to walk, but yeah, I will walk Sable,” Boyd said.
Gilbreath says Sable’s presence helps Eliseo feel like he can be a kid again. He is in remission, but is considered at high risk of relapse due to his age. Two-and-a-half hours from their family, Gilbreath says Sable is part of the big UMC family, which picks them up when things seem to be at their worst.
“That’s what they’re here for. They’re not just there to be the nurse and do things, but they’re also there to be our backbone, because sometimes we can’t and that’s what they were for sure,” a- she declared.
Boyd says facility dogs are changing the face of pediatric healthcare and in about five years, having facility dogs like Sable will be the new normal.
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