Stacey always had a soft spot for animals, dogs in particular. She had a family dog growing up, but never imagined they could be anything more than a beloved family pet. That all changed when her dad lost his vision 15 years ago.
Magnolia, a friendly and energetic golden retriever, joined her family shortly thereafter. The puppy immediately took a liking to Stacey’s father, who found that the dog’s energy lifted his spirits and comforted him.
“We could see how she made him feel. He didn’t know that the rest of our family would stare at the two of them together, but we could see it working,” Stacey says. “Being around animals can be soothing for many people. It’s nice to see her be able to give that love away to people. It’s a very simple thing to put a dog on a bed, but it can have a powerful impact.”
Her father was already familiar with the pet therapy program at CHOC Children’s, and urged Stacey to pursue it as a “career” for Magnolia. As part of The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department, not only does the pet therapy program aim to minimize stress and anxiety for patients at CHOC, but it also offers a “normal-life” experience that lets hospitalized kids be kids.
“My dad knew how much time I love spending with Magnolia, and we had the opportunity to give back. CHOC saved my life when I got spinal meningitis at age four, and joining the pet therapy program is my way of giving back,” says Stacey, who still has the Choco bear she was given as a patient 43 years ago.
All pet therapy dogs at CHOC are extensively trained, and then later certified by Pet Partners, a national organization that registers the human/pet team once they pass an obedience test.
Having been a teacher for over 25 years, Stacey was familiar with sticking to a lesson plan and providing special one-on-one tutoring for a student needing extra help with a tricky subject. She just never imagined that her student would be her dog! She did all of Magnolia’s training leading up to her obedience test.
Now a certified pet therapy dog and proud member of the CHOC team, Magnolia makes 24 visits per year to CHOC Children’s Hospital. She spends her time at CHOC visiting patients in various inpatient units and the emergency department, but is on her best behavior whenever one of those patients happens to be one of Stacey’s kindergarten students.
“Magnolia is very different at the hospital than she is at home or with the kids in our neighborhood,” Stacey says. “She is energetic and silly at home. But as soon as she goes through the front doors of CHOC, she knows she is at work. She knows it is time to be mellow and calm.”
When she’s not at work, Magnolia enjoys running leash-free in the desert; shopping at dog-friendly malls; and watching bunnies, squirrels and ducks.