K9 Officer Nova’s bark brightens the day for caregivers
K9 Officer Nova and her handler, Security Officer Matt Wolfe, are part of MultiCare’s K9 unit and start each day like many MultiCare caregivers — doing rounds.
The 1-and-a-half-year-old sable German shepherd is eager for their first stop — usually MultiCare Allenmore Hospital, where Wolfe and Nova round inside and outside the hospital. Next, it’s on to MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital to patrol the campus, Emergency Department and other areas.
MultiCare’s K9 unit specializes in creating a safe environment by defusing tense situations, detecting narcotics and patrolling the hospitals and grounds.
Their charge is to keep caregivers, patients and visitors safe. Both Nova and Wolfe take that role seriously.
Bonnie Bessner, RN, a nurse at Tacoma General, says of Nova, “Sweet face, trusting eyes, but serious at her job. [She’s] wonderful for staff safety."
Wolfe observes, “Now with COVID-19, there has been less to do, considering the visitor restrictions, but Nova has found a place lifting the spirits of the medical staff with stress-reducing visits.”
Joe Yarborough at Tacoma General Security calls Nova an essential MultiCare team member, saying that she ensures the security of all MultiCare’s campuses and helps relieve stress.
“Keeps us safe while bringing smiles…”
Safety is just one part of what Nova does well — the bigger part, especially during these challenging times of COVID-19, is the effect she has on staff. Her presence calms and boosts morale every day for nurses, doctors and other MultiCare team members.
"Nova keeps us safe while bringing smiles to all the staff," says Amisha Parekh, MD, an emergency services physician at Allenmore's Emergency Department.
"Nova has been an amazing addition," says Tanya Copenhaver, a Tacoma General social worker. "She makes crisis situations less stressful for the social workers. And she always brightens my day!"
Wolfe says Nova brightens the day for patients and visitors, too.
But she also has a job to do, so Nova’s black halter displays a bright yellow “Do Not Pet” message so visitors don’t unknowingly reach out to pet her while she’s working and following commands.
Wolfe often uses hand signals to communicate and give Nova silent commands. While these commands may be invisible to the public, Nova understands that they’re signals for her to alert on a specific situation. It’s part of what makes Nova remarkable at safeguarding the staff.
K9 training and bonding
Last fall, Wolfe flew to Indiana to a facility that specializes in training police dogs to find the K9 partner he would work with at MultiCare. After a few days, Wolfe connected with Nova. They underwent almost four weeks of intensive training together, forming a strong bond. Although Nova was the youngest dog there, Wolfe proudly says she passed her certification test with flying colors.
Nova’s been on the job for just over four months and has an impressive record of code gray de-escalations, hospital evictions and patient visits.
“She’s become our therapy dog…”
When Nova’s not on alert and visitors or staff show interest, there’s a special command Wolfe uses to let her know it’s OK to be friendly. He says, “Go say hi.” It’s Nova’s signal that it’s time to be social, and she’ll eagerly greet people and get her pets.
“I consider myself very lucky to have a K9 partner that is friendly enough to sit with a frightened child and then, with just a command, keep a staff member safe from a hostile person,” Wolfe says. “She truly loves her job.”
For the staff, the sight of Nova and Wolfe on patrol provides an extra sense of security that’s become especially important during this uncertain time.
"Not only is she great for keeping the ED staff safe, she has become our therapy dog," says Barbara Dyste, RN, a nurse in the Tacoma General Emergency Department. "She decreases our stress. I love her working bark!"
About The Author
Carmen plans and develops internal communications at MultiCare. She has a passion for telling the stories of our employees, physicians and nurses. Have a story to share? You can reach her at [email protected]. More stories by this author