Meet Olaf: A true companion for Mary Bridge patients
At Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, everyone adores Olaf – not the snowman, rather our beloved 4-year-old facility dog.
Olaf is a valued member of our Child Life Services team and a familiar face for many Mary Bridge patients, providers and families. He is a highly trained and certified facility dog, specializing in work with pediatric patients. He completed an intense two-year accredited program with Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that provides expertly trained service dogs to people with disabilities and to professionals in healthcare settings, free of charge.
Child Life Specialist Kristen Bishop and facility dog Olaf have been a team at Mary Bridge since 2019.
Kristen Bishop, Olaf's handler, is one of 11 on the Child Life Services team at Mary Bridge. After completing a lengthy application and approval process with Canine Companions, she spent 18 months on the waiting list before being matched with a facility dog. In an intensive two-week training and examination period, Kristen and Olaf were matched as a team in April 2019 and have been inseparable since.
In their work together, Kristen and Olaf aim to minimize stress for patients going through various procedures and treatments. For some patients, this looks like racing to take medicine – a game where patients try to finish their medicine before Olaf finishes his "medicine" (water in a syringe). For others, it's a simple game of fetch in the hallways that almost always works to distract patients from lengthy visits or hospitalizations.
"The use and inclusion of Olaf provides motivation, encouragement, support and comfort to our patients," Kristen said. "He knows more than 40 commands that we use in our daily interactions with the kids we serve."
What’s the difference between a facility dog and a therapy dog?
Olaf is a facility dog and works exclusively with Kristen who plans and facilitates interventions based on the needs of the patient. He is directly involved with patient care and treatment goals, providing clinical and procedural support, often to patients with chronic conditions. Other dogs you see at Mary Bridge are therapy dogs. They attend a training course and pass an evaluation prior to visiting but have the sole purpose of bringing smiles and comfort to patients. Our pet therapy teams are made up of a group of wonderful volunteers, overseen by Volunteer Services.
In 2020, Child Life Services at Mary Bridge provided support to more than 8,200 patients, allowing kids to be kids while in the hospital and helping turn stressful times into opportunities for healing. Our programs have looked different in the pandemic – including may things going virtual – but much of Kristen and Olaf's work remained steady at the hospital.
"At the height of the pandemic, Olaf couldn't visit patients," Kristen said. But instead of cancelling visits, the team got creative and visited virtually and through windows, they played on the lawn outside of the Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center, and sent notes and pictures 'from Olaf' to the kids. "Many of our patients know Olaf and really missed him, so it was crucial for us to adapt and find ways to be there for them even when we couldn't do in-person visits," she said.
Olaf is an important member of our Child Life Services team and just in the last year, he’s been part of more than 1,000 patient visits. You can learn more about Olaf and follow his adventures on Instagram.
March is recognized as Child Life Month. Child Life Services, including ongoing support for Olaf and our therapy dogs, at Mary Bridge is a donor-supported program that provides free support to patients and their siblings. To learn more or to find out how you can help, visit www.marybridge.org/mary-bridge-experience/child-life-services/.
About The Author
Kalyn is the PR specialist for Mary Bridge Children’s. She writes about all things related to pediatric health and wellness, and enjoys telling patient and provider stories.More stories by this author