HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - A dog made her debut at her new job helping put patients at ease as the most recent in a long line of therapy dogs at a South Florida hospital.

Thursday was training day for Honeycrisp at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.

The 2-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever joins the ranks of Memorial Healthcare System’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program.

Tracy Meltzer, director of nursing at Memorial Regional, said therapy dogs provide patients with the next best thing to medicine to help them heal.

“We got involved with a company called ECAD about 14 years ago, and we wanted to do something out of the box: therapeutic measures for our patients rather than just the old modern medicine, pill, things like that,” she said.

That something led them to team up with a nonprofit that trains dogs with a specific set of skills. ECAD stands for Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities.

“They’re trained for emotional and physical disabilities,” said Meltzer.

That’s where Honeycrisp and her five canine co-workers come in.

“Let’s say a patient for some reason isn’t motivated to get out of bed and walk, which is so important for their recovery, so we’ll bring the dog in the room,” said Meltzer. “The dog will utilize the commands, pull the patient’s covers down, open the closet door, get their slippers, bring their slippers over to them, help them, like, sit up on the side of the bed.”

Lu Picard helped train the canines to help patients with disabilities.

“You just see the love that comes over the people’s face, and how they just calm down, or the dog has been able to comfort them,” she said.

The interactions not only lift patients’ spirits but help make their recovery process a little easier.

“Bringing the dogs in, getting them engaged with the patient and the dogs, watching them be able to brush the dog, pet the dogs,” said Samantha Thaler, nurse manager at Memorial Regional.

Honeycrisp keeps a legacy going. The dog will be replacing Gael, her 9-year-old great-great-grandmother, who herself comes from a long line of therapy dogs.

“I started in 1995 with a dog called Sky’s the Limit, and every dog in this room goes back to her,” said Picard.

But Thaler, who will be Honeycrisp’s hospital handler, said the training is more for the nurses than for Honeycrisp.

“It’s a full week of teaching the humans how to get to the dog’s level,” she said, “because [the dogs] are already perfect; we just have to make sure we don’t mess them up.”

Honeycrisp will be shadowing Gael until the older dog fully retires next year.

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