The Dog Will See You Now

Patients challenged by pain and fear can build resilience by interacting with hospital facility dogs, explains Ali Spikestein

[00:00:00] Hospital Voices: Time to ring the bell! Woo hoo! Yay, Victor! Woo hoo! Woo hoo! Do you want to say hi to Professor? I know you haven't gotten to see him yet today.

[00:00:14] Stephen Calabria: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Stephen Calabria. What you're hearing is a video taken of a patient named Victor Franco on his last day of chemotherapy treatment at Kravis Children's Hospital in Mount Sinai.

[00:00:30] Victor was 18 years old at the time, and underwent chemotherapy for almost nine months. He's greeted in the video by one of his closest companions over that time, Professor Bunsen Honeydew, who goes by Professor. Professor is Mount Sinai's first of three facility dogs, and a respected and beloved member of the Mount Sinai workforce.

[00:00:49] On today's program, we welcome Ali Spikestein, the Program Manager of the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department at Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai. Allie is a Certified Child Life Specialist and oversees the Paws and Play Facility Dog Program. In that role, she serves as Professor's primary handler. We're pleased to have Ali on the show,

[00:01:10] Ali Spikestein, welcome to Road to Resilience. Could you give us an overview of your background?

[00:01:15] Ali Spikestein: Sure. I'm happy to be here. I am a certified child life specialist and the program manager of the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department at Mount Sinai. I also oversee our facility dog program, Paws and Play, and I'm the primary handler of our first facility dog. Professor Bunsen Honeydew.

[00:01:33] Stephen Calabria: How did you first become interested in using facility dogs in your practice?

[00:01:37] Ali Spikestein: So I was a child life specialist. I actually did my training at Mount Sinai in our internship program here. This was before we had our facility dog program. And did my first couple of years in my career here and really saw a need to connect with patients in a different way, in a more intimate way, and there are facility dog programs around the country that were starting to appear and our director at the time, Diane Rohde, was doing an educational session at a hospital in Colorado and met their facility dogs and said, This is incredible.

[00:02:10] I need to bring this to Mount Sinai. So it kind of, the stars kind of aligned for me that I was looking for something to add to my skill set, to my repertoire, something that I could offer that was a little bit more tangible because as a certified child life specialist, a lot of what I offer is grounded in things that are tangible, but a lot of it is talk based as well.

[00:02:28] And we're not therapists, so we don't do therapy, but we help prepare patients for what they're going to experience, support families through difficult moments, but I was really looking for something to help ground that work, so when we talked about who would help to really drive this new initiative, which is a huge initiative for our hospital, starting a facility dog program, I thought to myself, Hmm, this might be a good fit for me right now.

[00:02:53] To be transparent, I had never had a dog before, which is something that I talked to my patients and co workers about all the time. I was really, really interested in the clinical aspect of having a facility dog, really interested in doing research around what would that look like to introduce a facility dog into my child life sessions, onto my clinical units.

[00:03:14] I think when I graduated as a certified child life specialist, I never would have predicted that this is the direction that my career would have taken me, but I'm so happy that it did.

[00:03:24] Stephen Calabria: We keep using the term facility dogs instead of therapy dogs. What is the difference between a facility dog and therapy dog?

[00:03:32] Ali Spikestein: I'm really glad that you asked that because it is a really important difference and I think both programs have such value within a healthcare system. So, our facility dog program is full time service animals. So, dogs trained as service animals to work in a facility, facility dog. They're trained from birth.

[00:03:50] Stephen Calabria: A medical facility, that is.

[00:03:52] Ali Spikestein: So, it doesn't necessarily have to be a medical facility. There are facility dogs in different types of facilities. There is usually a medical component, but there's also some therapy practices that might have facility dogs. The main distinctions are how they're trained.

Download Transcript