This article first appeared in the Rushville Republican on July 19, 2019
Chris Sullivan, a surgical nurse at Rush Memorial Hospital, has always been a dog lover. When her son was very sick in infancy, a beautiful Great White Pyrenees came to visit Chris and her husband at Riley’s Children’s Hospital. This was Chris’ first interaction with a certified therapy dog. This experience, combined with her love of dogs, led Chris to eventually purchase and train Ky, her own certified therapy dog. Each week, with Chris on the other end of the leash, Ky brings love and comfort to the inpatients of RMH.
Ky is an “aussiedoodle” or mix between a standard poodle and an Australian Shepherd, two very intelligent breeds. Chris says, “You put two Einstein breeds together and you get an amazing animal.” Not surprisingly, Ky stood out among the puppies of his litter. Although Ky is adorable, Chris and her husband picked him out based on his behavior, not his looks. They got him when he was eight weeks old.
Ky began training at 4 months, as soon as his vaccinations were complete. For 18 months he trained 2 days a week with husband and wife trainers Brian and Kristie at Custom Canine in Greenfield. He learned basic manners while he and Chris learned to function as a team and to have confidence in one another. They trained in both group and individual lessons. Ky learned agility training as well as obedience. He can jump over walls, crawl through tunnels and walk along planks. He can also catch Frisbees. Agility training and Frisbee help Ky have fun and balance therapy work with being a puppy.
After 18 months of training, Ky passed the test to become a certified therapy dog. Chris approached Janie Manning, RMH Discharge Coordinator, and requested that she be allowed to bring Ky to visit patients on her day off. Janie was immediately enthusiastic. Chris and Ky began visiting the hospital for 3 hours, once or twice a week.
Ky has been able to connect with people of all ages and from many walks of life. Janie says, “He is able to sense the patients who are lonely or scared or missing their own pet. He seems to be able to reach everyone in one way or another. It’s marvelous to see him in action.”
When asked for a story about Ky’s work, Chris talked about an incident that occurred while he was visiting the vet.
“We went to the vet one day. Usually when we’re there, Ky sits calmly at my side while we wait to be seen. On this day, he wouldn’t settle down. After they put us in the exam room, he was agitated. He kept going to the door, wanting out. The vet came in and told me that the people in the next room had had to put their dog down. Their 12 year old daughter was extremely upset. The vet asked if Ky could go console her. Ky went and sat outside the girl’s door, waiting for her. When she came out, he let her hold him. She cried for 15 or 20 minutes with him in her arms. Afterwards, Ky came back to his exam room. This time he returned to sit quietly by my side. His job was done.”
Chris and her husband are committed to keeping Ky at his “job”. Ky still goes to training once a week. He has a companion dog, Kaden, who is also an Aussie doodle. Kaden is also in training, but it is too soon to tell if he will be able to be a therapy dog. When Chris and her husband travel, they usually go someplace that is dog-friendly. Chris says, “New situations are good for the dogs. They’re fun to take and great travelers.”
Chris is not sure how long Ky will remain a therapy dog. “As long as he’s healthy and he enjoys it, he’ll probably work as a therapy dog,” she says, adding, “As for myself, I can’t imagine not doing it now.” Chris is clear about one thing. When asked about the hard work and expense of having a therapy dog, Chris summed up her efforts. “I thank God every day for choosing ME to hold Ky’s leash.” she said.
CEO Brad Smith is one of Ky’s greatest fans. He said, “I am so thankful that Chris is willing to bring Ky into the hospital to see patients and staff. The calming effect and the joy that Ky brings to all of us is priceless. Here at RMH we are always striving to make our patient experience better. Ky has proven to me that sometimes it’s just the simple things in life that have the biggest impact.”