Sanford Health therapy dog helps local youth dealing with mental health issues
FARGO, N.D. (KVRR) – A therapy dog is one of the most important members of Sanford Health’s behavioral health services team.
Nine-year-old Tucker is usually pretty quiet but when he lets it out, he’s got a big bark.
His job, however, is even bigger.
“When we have our meetings in the morning, it’s a little bit of, ‘Hmm, will Tucker come to me first? Oh, I hope he does.’ And just having him do his rounds and say hello to everybody,” said Sanford Health Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Stefanie Hanisch.
Tucker works with young people at Sanford’s adolescent partial hospitalization program on University Drive in Fargo.
It’s a treatment program for those between the ages of 12 to 18 dealing with behavioral health issues like depression and anxiety.
“We don’t always get into telling them before we walk into the room so sometimes he’s a pretty pleasant surprise,” explained his owner and Sanford Health Social Worker Wanda Carlson. “He’s good with alleviating some of the anxiety about this is a really scary place and there’s not any humor or kind of lightening up of the moment. I think that’s a lot of what he does.”
Although he can’t prescribe medication or give a shot, Tucker can reach patients in a way that’s different from human-to-human interaction.
“It just adds a unique layer of playfulness even though this is certainly a serious treatment program and we do very good and serious work,” added Hanisch.
Apart from Tucker being part of it, the program is unique in that it does not include overnight stays but provides treatment throughout the day.
Carlson says his impact on the kids lasts long after they leave the program. “We still see some of those folks out and about in the community and it’s kind of funny because I don’t know that they would recognize all of us staff but I think they always recognize the dog,” she smiled.
Tucker and Carlson have been at the treatment program since 2016.