Story, photos by Mark Boehler
For Crossroads Magazine
There is a new member of the professional health care team at Magnolia Regional Health Center and her job is to bring smiles to those she meets.
So far, so good on this new thing called puppy love.
Meet Magnolia’s new facility therapy canine Ora, a six-month-old Australian Shepherd red tricolor bundle of joy whose current job description is mingle with employees and share a moment of joy despite some painful situations health care providers encounter on a daily basis.
Provided through Mississippi Therapy Canines and supported whole heartedly by the Magnolia Foundation and hospital administration, MRHC Chief People Officer Regenia Brown is now the “chief doggy officer” and has completed her dog handler theory through Pet Partners and had her first checkoff at the University Medical Center in Jackson. Regenia and Ora will complete their final therapy animal team evaluation after the canine turns one year old.
“I have wanted to see this at Magnolia for many years,” says Brown, who has been in human resources for 40 years, with 15 of those at the local hospital. “I am grateful administration is supportive. They have been behind me the whole time.”
Ora continues to be a work in progress. She went through six weeks of basic obedience training, allowing the canine to report to work everyday with her handler and visit employees. More advanced training awaits Ora in late March for another six to eight weeks. Once she becomes a year old and earns her dog diploma — humans call it registered therapy canines — Ora will be able to see patients.
“She will be evaluated at one year old,” noted Brown, a dog lover who has two Boston Terriers at home, six-year-old Annie Rose and ole Beau, a lovable rescue pet.
Annie Rose and Beau have adjusted well to Ora in the Brown abode with just a few arguments over toys and treats.
On this particular afternoon, Ora reports for duty in her handler’s office at the hospital. Dog food and water bowls in a corner and chewable pet toys on the carpeted floor in the human resource department reveal the boss today may be hiding under the couch and not sitting behind the desk.
“For years I have tried to get people to come visit my office,” says Brown, who assists in local animal rescue efforts when not at the hospital. “I tried everything — even candy. Now that’s not an issue with Ora here. Everyone feels she is partially theirs — that’s what I want.”
Ora is oblivious to the interview and chews on a small teddy bear under the couch where her handler is seated.
Brown pets the pup while she shares the origin of the therapy canine.
Obtained on Oct. 25 at eight weeks old, the puppy’s beautiful red tricolor was the inspiration for her name.
Brown’s grandmother always wanted a red-headed grandchild. “When I saw the (dog’s) red hair, it reminded me of my grandmother,” she says.
Since her grandmother’s name was Ora, a connection was made to the new member of both the Brown family and the extended, much larger Magnolia family.
Tucker has to leave for a conference call. Ora remains unamused by the visitor and falls fast asleep as the handler explains the dog’s mission and purpose.
Before his exit, Tucker notes Ora’s employee I.D. badge is full of puppy teeth marks. “We may have to get a new badge,” he says, smiling.
Ora’s afternoon nap doesn’t last long. It was time to punch the time clock and make the rounds on a hospital employee visit.
“Employees deal with all kinds of tragedy,” explains Brown, putting Ora on her pink leash to match her pink facility dog vest. “They can have very stressful days. They walk from one room involving death and then must walk into another room with a smile on their face. There is no time to decompress. It takes its toll.”
Ora provides comfort in difficult times, she says.
“It takes some of the stress away to be able to pet the puppy,” notes Brown, as she marks Ora’s daily log to keep a record of the canine visits.
Handler and therapy canine walk down a corridor for the long walk to the emergency room.
Ora is high stepping, ready for an adventure into to the great medical indoors where other dogs are not allowed.
“Our employees are good people,” says the handler. “If this puppy can put a smile on their face, it has been well worth my time.”
The smiles do come. And reactions. And petting.
“Hey there!” expresses an employee in blue scrubs. “She is so cute. Sweet!”
Upon arrival at the nurse’s station in the emergency room area, it’s rock star status for Ora.
There are hugs, kisses and embraces. Ora takes it all in. She doesn’t meet a stranger. It’s as if she already understands her role.
“She’s a quick learner,” says Brown.
EMR Specialist Brittney Drewery is one of the many getting their Ora love.
“She just brightens your day,” says Drewery, smiling widely. “She is adorable.”
After the love session, employees get back to their tasks of serving others and saving lives.
Ora brought plenty of smiles, if only for a moment.
As Ora continues to swell the hearts of employees, Brown hopes patients will eventually be able to do the same.
“That’s the goal,” adds Brown. “Eventually she will see patients. Facility therapy dogs are seeing a lot of success. Their purpose is to brighten everyone’s day.”
Ora returns to her handler’s office. She lays in the floor, chewing on her water bowl. Or anything else in which she can sink her teeth.
And now, her hospital I.D. tag has been chewed into submission.
Ora has a way of doing that to people.
Afterall, it’s part of her job description.