“Is Bailey coming today?” That’s the first question most children ask when they arrive for treatment at the Pediatric Ambulatory Chemotherapy and Transfusion Center at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
Bailey — a big, fluffy Australian Labradoodle — is also excited to see the children. “As soon as we arrive, his tail starts wagging a mile a minute,” said his human, Mike Kroeber. “He loves coming here as much as the kids love seeing him.”
Bailey is a celebrity to more than just the kids at Cohen Children’s. Staff also adore him, said Maura Tully, Cohen Children’s pet therapy coordinator. “When he’s on the floor, they get to step away from the stress and rigors of their jobs for just a minute,” she explained. “Everyone relaxes.”
In fact, Bailey is very special to many people and does so much for Cohen Children’s that he’s been awarded Volunteer of the Year for 2014. (Sadly, because of regulations where the event is being held, Bailey can’t attend. But there’s a good chance he’ll get a doggie bag!)
A Big Dog with a Big Heart
Bailey’s story started when Mr. Kroeber and his wife, Chris, wondered how to give back to the community. “One way you get involved is through your kids’ school. We don’t have kids,” he said. But when they decided they wanted someone to care for, they immediately thought of a dog.
They had one problem, however: Ms. Kroeber’s allergies. “We had to find a hypo-allergenic breed,” Mr. Kroeber explained.
That’s when they discovered Bailey. His breed had the reduced allergen quality they sought.
A friend suggested that Bailey would make a great therapy dog, so Mr. Kroeber and Bailey started working toward becoming a certified therapy team. “Bailey is brilliant. He was one of the youngest dogs to pass the Therapy Dog International test,” Mr. Kroeber said.
Today, Mr. Kroeber is as much of a celebrity as Bailey. “Mike is wonderful with children. He shows them how to get Bailey to do tricks,” said Faye Hochheiser, senior child life specialist at Cohen Children’s. “It takes their minds off their procedures. For a moment, they’re able to have fun playing with a dog. They light up when Bailey’s around.”
Helping kids learn how to give commands to Bailey is intentional on Mr. Kroeber’s part. “Bailey can sit, roll over, shake, give high fives, play patty cake, balance food on his nose and dance, among other things. I think it’s important that the kids have a chance to tell someone else what to do in a place where they often have to do what others tell them. My hope is that they don’t feel quite so powerless,” said Mr. Kroeber.
A Well-Rounded Ambassador
Bailey and Mr. Kroeber visit the outpatient chemotherapy and transfusion center every Friday, as well as the adolescent eating disorders group on Wednesdays. Ms. Kroeber joins them when she can. Hospital physicians and administrators have also banded together to make it possible for hospitalized patients to visit with Bailey, as long as they don’t have contact restrictions based on their treatment.
Bailey is also a favorite at hospital events like fund-raisers and blood drives. “He’s always good for rounding up a few more pints or dollars,” said Mr. Kroeber.
Bailey’s gentle demeanor and ease around people is a testament not only to his breed, but also to the care and attention he receives from his humans and all his friends at Cohen Children’s. “He’s a great dog; the best,” Mr. Kroeber said. “It’s a real joy for us to be able to help kids heal.”
WOOF! Do you want to join Bailey’s fan club? Follow him on Instagram at instagram.com/baileydoodle.
Want to help others?
To find out how you can help Cohen Children’s Medical Center be there for the thousands of patients and families who need care each year, call 516-465-2562.