Caring For Compass

February 09, 2017

Compass  DJ
Donna (DJ) McKee, Unit Secretary for Memorial Hospital Miramar’s Emergency Room, doesn’t consider herself overly emotional. Yet once she starts talking about her work with Compass, all bets are off.

DJ is a volunteer therapy dog “home” handler for Memorial’s Pet Therapy Program at Memorial Hospital Miramar; Compass is her golden retriever sidekick. Both have undergone rigorous training to prepare for the job of providing comfort to patients, visitors, employees and physicians.

“It’s so encouraging to witness the benefits the therapy program at Memorial has,” DJ says. “I feel so privileged to be part of the program.”

Like DJ, Compass works at Memorial Hospital Miramar. He is one of six Memorial therapy dogs, each of which has been assigned to a specific Memorial facility. He is among a growing number of animals qualified to aid people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and schools. Like his co-woofers across the nation, his presence has proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help children overcome speech and emotional disorders, improve physical skills for people in rehabilitation, and simply make people happy.

Compass is on the job Monday through Friday. His rounds are incorporated into DJ’s schedule. Together, they see patients who have requested him through the BARK line and visit various departments, including speech therapy and adult rehab.

“Sometimes [his presence] aids them focusing on the task at hand,” says DJ, who used to show Great Danes. “The patients come in not speaking at all and they develop speaking habits. They have fun by throwing his ball for him. Just last week, the therapist was saying, ‘That’s the first time the patient’s been calm in the room, with Compass at the patient’s side.’”

When Compass meets rehab patients, he distracts them from their pain and worries. When working with children in speech therapy, his calming effect refocuses them. He comforts loved ones in waiting rooms who are anxious for updates. During his inpatient visits he’ll simply lay his head on a hand, cuddle in bed with a patient (at their request), and assist patients who are ready to get out of their bed to walk.

“Sometimes it’s just by him being there in the room, not necessarily interacting. It’s amazing the difference he makes,” says DJ.

Memorial’s animal-assisted therapy policy allows the dogs to only work two hours consistently and then a play break and rest. DJ says the animals take in the stress from patients, so it’s critical for handlers to recognize any signs of fatigue.

On the weekends, both DJ and Compass are off duty. Compass relaxes or interacts with our three grandchildren. However, both handler and hound make a point to stay sharp on commands. DJ’s experience caring for Great Danes makes her ideally qualified to maintain Compass’s wellbeing and skill sets.

“Even as a pet at home, he still minds me. But he has fun. Once you take off his vest, he knows he can go about his business,” DJ says.

Compass has been celebrated in the local media, but he hasn’t let success go to his head. He consistently and unconditionally gives love to everyone he meets.

“It’s indescribable at certain times. It’s really touching,” DJ says, tearing up.

Compass Pet Therapy

Video: Speech therapy patient forges bond with Compass, the Memorial Pet Therapy dog.