New facility dog carries special legacy to help others heal

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Nearly one year after Greenville Health System (GHS) patient Betsy Eye lost her battle with chronic illness, her four-legged legacy began his first week of work down the same hospital halls she once frequented. “Betsy’s Dog” was introduced Thursday as GHS’ newest facility dog who will bring critically ill children joy and comfort during extended hospital stays.

“Betsy’s Dog” is a one and a half year old Golden Retriever named King. He joins facility dogs Kalle, Kenzie and Vivitar as part of the Canine F.E.T.C.H. (Friends Encouraging Therapeutic Coping and Healing) Unit, specially trained canine therapists who provide physical, social and emotional support to patients at GHS Children’s Hospital. King is the first dog to be donated in memory of a former patient. His facility dog vest will even sport a specially designed patch commemorating his status as “Betsy’s Dog.”

King’s arrival was made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor, who read Betsy’s candid account of her struggle with chronic illness through a popular patient blog run by Betsy’s friend and former hospital mate, Brynn Duncan. The donor, herself suffering with chronic illness, was particularly moved by the simple joys the facility dogs brought to Betsy and funded an additional dog in her honor. Each facility dog costs approximately $25,000 to onboard into a hospital setting.

“Betsy had a way of just walking in to the room and immediately making it lighter,” said Duncan. “The facility dogs have the same effect in the midst of stressful situations, so honoring her with a facility dog is a wonderful way to keep her spirit alive.”

King will work as a dedicated member of the pediatric supportive care team at GHS Children’s Hospital alongside handler Arun Singh, MD, medical director of the unit. Betsy was the first pediatric patient to be admitted into this team’s care.

The supportive care team, also known as palliative care, helps children and families improve quality of life when faced with a chronic or life-threatening condition through symptom management, emotional support and spiritual care. King’s presence will help ease tensions during difficult discussions with families and add a degree of normalcy for young patients faced with a highly abnormal situation.

“Most families approach palliative care with fear because it indicates the seriousness of their child’s condition. King will serve as a buffer between our team and the families we serve to help them relax and become comfortable with our services,” said Singh.
“Most important, King will help our most critically ill patients manage stress and pain in a natural way through snuggles, which would be a nice adjunct to traditional pharmaceuticals or other symptom-management techniques.”

Before beginning service at GHS, King underwent extensive training at Canine Assistants, a Georgia nonprofit that specializes in training hospital facility dogs. Each dog begins training at two to three days old and learns the patience and discipline required to work in a high-touch environment for up to eight hours per day. When the dogs are ready to graduate to full hospital employment, handlers attend a one-week training session to be matched with a dog based on personality and ability.

The dogs are also named in training based on the theme of the dog’s particular litter. King’s name is a reference to Martin Luther King Jr. under the umbrella theme of “American Heroes.”

For Betsy’s mom Beverly Eye, King’s status as the hospital’s newest hero is fitting. She saw firsthand the impact of facility dogs on her daughter’s well-being during extensive inpatient stays and hopes that Betsy’s legacy will have that same positive impact on other children in need.

“Whenever Betsy had a bad day and a facility dog stopped by to visit, her spirits visibly lifted. They were the everyday heroes making her time more bearable,” said Eye. “I can’t think of a better way to remember Betsy than to share the joy of facility dogs with other families who are hurting. This hospital became our home, and we are so honored to have a permanent reminder of Betsy here.”

To learn about ways to give to GHS Children’s Hospital, call (864) 797-7747. To give specifically to the facility dog program, click here. Select The Canine F.E.T.C.H. Unit in the dropdown box.

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