Not all heroes wear capes – or even have opposable thumbs. This hero has four legs, a tail and a big heart. Meet Reggie: a four-year-old golden retriever who brings hope and love to the patients and families at Children’s Health Care of Atlanta. He is a part of the hospital’s Canines for Kids Program.
Reggie is a one-of-a-kind furry friend who gives support and comfort for patients when they need it the most. He works with the staff at Children’s as a facility dog offering the highest-quality care possible.
“He just has such a fun personality. He loves to snuggle, he loves to work, but he just loves to make people laugh by being a goofball,” said Reggie’s owner and handler Kara Klein. “It’s so great to see him in the hospital and to see him make a difference, whether that is by helping motivate a patient or by making them laugh.”
Reggie is responsible for answering consult requests from hospital staff and helping wherever he is needed in the facility. Unlike other dogs in the Canines for Kids program, Reggie is not assigned to one specific unit at the hospital. He’s everywhere and also enjoys attending special events and fundraisers hosted by Children’s.
Reggie often visits the Louise and Brett Samsky Preschool at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. According to Klein, when he spends time at the preschool, he helps the students learn social skills by creating an encouraging, fun environment.
“During my time working with Children’s [Health Care of Atlanta], I was able to see how the presence of Reggie simply lit up an entire room with smiles,” said Children’s Health Care of Atlanta spokeswoman Kaylie Beacham. “Reggie is truly a superstar!”
At the beginning of each day at work, Reggie and his handler ask the medical team what Reggie can do to help each specific patient reach their treatment goals. The duo then goes room to room spending time with patients and offering individualized care based on the patient’s needs.
“Our dogs have this innate ability to know what a patient needs from them at that moment,” Klein said. “Reggie knows when to be serious, but he also knows how to be silly and make someone laugh.”
One afternoon, Reggie received a request to help motivate a teenage boy who was recovering from his recent spinal surgery and was nervous about the pain. With Reggie’s support, the physical therapist could help the patient out of bed and walk a lap around the unit. On the next lap, the patient held Reggie’s leash and walked him around the floor by himself. Klein was excited to see other clinicians recognize and celebrate Reggie’s encouragement and positive influence on patients.
“As a kid who was frequently in the hospital for testing and procedures the presence of the therapy dogs really helped to ease some of the anxiety that comes along with it,” former patient Brie Buckfelder said. “I really appreciated when they would come visit me before tests and give me some encouragement.”
Canines for Kids began in 2009, when the hospital welcomed facility dog Casper to the team. It was the first hospital-based facility dog program in the country. Over time, it has encouraged hospitals nationwide to adopt similar programs.
The program now has a crew of 11 dogs across Children’s three hospital locations: Egleston, Scottish Rite and Hughes Spalding. Reggie joined the Canines for Kids staff in April 2022 after completing specialized training to work in the hospital.
According to Klein, before they are assigned a role in the hospital, Children’s facility dogs train for a year and a half to two years with Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization that trains and places service dogs across the nation. Part of their training is in a real hospital so they can become familiar with the noises and smells of a busy hospital before they are assigned to one.
When he isn’t working as a facility dog at Children’s, Reggie is a skilled swimmer and enjoys playing fetch in the water with his family at home.
“I just think what our dogs do is truly magic,” Klein said. “I’m very privileged to be able to be the one who’s holding his leash.”
Canines for Kids is an entirely donor-funded program. To learn more or donate, visit the Children’s website. Reggie and his team of furry friends always appreciate donations in the form of their favorite treats and toys as well. To stay updated on Reggie’s future endeavors, follow @therapydogsofchoa on Instagram.
The Everyday Heroes project is a partnership between Fresh Take Georgia, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other newsrooms in Georgia.