New therapy dog making ‘pawsitive’ impact at Children’s Hospital Colorado Springs

Along with her human teammates, Salida is part of a group whose goal is to make time in the hospital easier for kids and their families.
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 10:25 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A new employee at a local hospital is prescribing joy to all her patients.

Not with a pen, but with a wag of her tail!

Meet Salida, a 2 1/2-year-old yellow lab who is making a “pawsitive” impact on kids at Children’s Hospital Colorado Springs.

She’s the newest member of Children’s growing Child Life Specialist team, a group whose goal is to make time in the hospital easier for kids and their families.

“The role of the child life specialist in a hospital setting is to try to help normalize being in the hospital, said Luzie Guerrero, one of the certified specialists and Salida’s handler. “We are there to be the support to them.”

And Salida is a big part of that.

“A lot of times, kids are here for extended lengths of time, anywhere from a few days to several weeks, sometimes even upwards of several months,” Guerrero said, “and sometimes it gets boring just being in a room. We have playrooms and only they can do so much, and having a dog in the hospital is definitely a novelty and very rare, and so when they get to find out that they get a visit from a dog, it’s very exciting for them.”

Salida only joined the team a few weeks ago, but Guerrero says she’s already seen an impact.

“I’ve had some children here crying, and the second I walk in the room, they stop crying and they just get a big smile on their face. I’ve had other kids who won’t talk to anybody else, and they’ve called me and I’ve gone to see them and they start talking to Salida. Not necessarily talk to me, but they’ll talk to Salida. And then they slowly start talking to me, and that’s been really neat to see, just the demeanor of a lot of kids’ faces change and just get happy, and their parents in turn get happy, and I’ve had a lot of crying parents just so relieved their child is talking to someone, even though in this situation it’s Salida,” Guerrero said.

Salida isn’t the first dog to spend time in Children’s -- the hospital had a program in the past where dogs were brought in to spend time with kids who were missing their pets -- but she’s the only medical dog Children’s has ever had.

“Salida’s the first medical dog in the sense that she can actually go into procedures with children and be a part of those in helping provide comfort and support. Whereas the other dogs ... can’t go into that area,” Guerrero said.

Her role is multifold.

“[Kids] get to participate in activities with her and getting to do their daily things that they need to do. Some kids need to learn to get out of the bed. And Salida can come and walk with them and just kind of take laps with them, and that’s helpful for them and encourages them to do the things they need to do to be able to get out of here,” Guerrero said.

And, she gives these kids courage.

“She typically sees kids who need a goal-oriented therapeutic reason … ranging in reasons from, ‘They’re going into surgery and they’re really nervous’ and she’s just there to provide comfort and support, to a kid who needed a procedure in radiology, and it was really invasive and he was really scared, and she’s just there to do what we call ‘medical play’ and kind of show him the steps on her first before he got them on him.”

Salida is a busy girl, working a full day every Monday-Thursday. She knows more than 40 cues, including, impressively, answering yes or no questions with a boop of her nose and opening automatic doors.

But her greatest talent is the smile she brings to kids’ faces.

“She’s very good at her job, and everyone loves her very much.”

Research backs the benefits animals can have on patients. According to Children’s, interacting with a gentle, friendly pet can result in benefits like stabilizing blood pressure, diminishing pain, reducing anxiety and, as Guerrero has seen first-hand, even encouraging communication.

Guerrero says she hopes to eventually bring more dogs onto the Child Life team.