The words 9-year-old Dodger loves to hear most: “Come visit, Dodger!”
The 15-pound terrier mix with fluffy, scruffy white fur and an adorable little beard sits patiently in his blue volunteer scarf and badge until his human, Julie Housman, gives him the OK with those words.
He interacts with patients in ways that can’t be taught. He knows exactly what to do.
Then he’ll approach for a visit, often with families in Cedars-Sinai’s waiting areas.
In patient rooms, once he’s placed on the bed, he’ll nuzzle his head against the patient’s hands or rest his head on their side. Julie says it’s one of his favorite duties as part of the Barbara Cowen POOCH Volunteer Program.
We asked Julie and Dodger to tell us about their experience volunteering at Cedars-Sinai.
What’s a typical shift with Dodger?
Every floor we hit, we try to make some time to spend with the patients’ families.
We’re here just as much for the families and nurses as we are for the patients. We want to make sure everyone here gets the love.
How long have you and Dodger volunteered at Cedars-Sinai?
About 5 months. I recently moved back to this side of Los Angeles.
I have a lot of history with my family here. I was born here. I wanted to come back and volunteer. When I was in high school, I volunteered here at Teen Line for 4 years.
How did Dodger become a therapy dog?
When I got Dodger, I fostered him for a while to see if he would be a good fit. We worked for a year and a half on his training, and then another 6 months for his certification.
He has a really good temperament for this. He interacts with patients in ways that can’t be taught. He knows exactly what to do.
When he’s not working, he’s very crazy—running, jumping, spinning. But once you put on his uniform, he’s very calm. He doesn’t jump or get overexcited. He loves it.
When it’s time to leave, I have to carry him across the bridge to the parking lot, because he doesn’t want to leave.
I get just as much out of it as the patients we visit.
What inspired you (and Dodger) to volunteer?
I was once in the hospital for a month or so and there was a therapy dog that came in. That was the only thing I looked forward to every day. I was very inspired by that, and knew I wanted to give back in this way.
It’s meant so much to us to be able to be here for these patients. To just be there to listen and help them out.
When I was in the hospital dealing with the unknowns and stuff like that, it was just the hardest thing.
I understand the value of having that visit. It’s an experience you want to give back to others for sure.
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Any standout moments from Dodger’s therapy dog experience?
At a different hospital where we volunteered, we were the only therapy dog team allowed in their critical care unit.
They brought us in to help the family of a patient who was near the end of her life. After spending time with the family, we decided to try a bed visit with the patient even though she was unresponsive.
We laid Dodger right beside her. I held her hand and had her pet Dodger. Her vitals immediately improved—just what you want to see with a therapy dog. We ended up visiting with them for 3 days in a row.
It was just phenomenal and the best thing I’ve ever experienced—to be able to share that experience with this family and see the love that this little guy has to give.
We’re here just as much for the families and nurses as we are for the patients.
What’s your favorite part of volunteering?
I get to see how much of a star Dodger is here and how much people love him—how much he helps others. And I am so much more grateful to have him. I’m the one who gets to take this dog home!
I’m the youngest of 6 children raised by a single father. My mom died when I was 2. My dad definitely taught us to be resilient and never give up.
Being here and giving back to others helps give me the motivation to keep going. I get just as much out of it as the patients we visit.
What’s Dodger’s favorite baseball team?
The Dodgers, of course!