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Dog of Aloha

Maui therapy dog brings kōkua to Japanese children’s hospital.

December 3, 2009
Debra Lordan

The Tyler Foundation, which aids these ill children, will oversee the program. Tyler Foundation President Kim Forsythe founded the organization four years ago after her 2-year-old son, Tyler, lost his battle with cancer.

“After spending almost two years in the hospital with Tyler, I realized that Japan didn’t yet have some of the support programs that exist in other countries to benefit children with cancer and their families,” said Forsythe. “I researched programs worldwide for innovative ideas to bring back to Japan.”

While researching therapy dog programs, Forsythe visited Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children on O‘ahu, where she met Tucker, a full-time therapy dog who was placed at the hospital three years ago.

Article Photos

They will bring comfort and aloha to ill children in Japan. Therapy Dog Bailey and his full-time handler, Pediatric Nurse Yuko Morita, will take care of kids with cancer at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital.

“I was amazed at the impact he had on the children,” said Forsythe. “Everywhere he went, faces just lit up!”

Dr. Wendi Hirsch, a child psychologist and Tucker’s full-time handler, said, “He is the best medicine we have. Words cannot describe the difference he has made. We now have children who look forward to coming back to the hospital, because they get to see Tucker.”

Forsythe chose to model her pilot program after the one at Kapi‘olani, and contacted Maureen “Mo” Maurer, founder of Hawai‘i Canines for Independence (HCI) in Makawao, where both Tucker and Bailey received their training.

“We looked at many assistance dog programs in Japan, Australia and the U.S.,” said Forsythe, “but none compared to the program we found in Hawai‘i. I have been so very impressed with the quality of the dogs at HCI, the depth of the training program and their complete commitment to a successful placement.”

Bailey trained at HCI for two years, passing rigorous health and temperament screening. He learned 70 commands in English and 20 commands in Japanese to prepare him for his special assignment.

“He memorized the Japanese words faster than I did,” said Maurer with a laugh.

Bailey has also learned how to bow when being introduced.

This special dog was chosen because of his extremely gentle nature and love of children. The unusual sights, sounds and smells of hospitals can be extremely stressful for most dogs. It takes a very special dog to have sensitivity to the patients, and yet, not be too environmentally sensitive. Two months of Bailey’s training was spent at Kapi‘olani to ensure that he was comfortable within the hospital environment.

These special qualities were first noticed by Ron and Sharon Dahlquist, who raised Bailey and have been volunteer “puppy raisers” with HCI for five years.

“There has always been something special about Bailey,” said Sharon. “He is very intuitive and can sense what people are feeling.”

Dedicated volunteers like the Dahlquists are the heart of HCI, said Maurer, and help make it possible for the organization to place dogs free of charge. Similar programs on the Mainland charge an average of $25,000 for fully trained service dogs.

And before accompanying Bailey to Japan, Forsythe and Yuko Morita, a pediatric nurse from Shizuoka Children’s Hospital who will serve as Bailey’s full-time handler at the hospital, also received instruction at the Team Training Camp at HCI on Maui and an additional week of training at the hospital in Japan. The Tyler Foundation has awarded a grant to HCI to cover all their expenses.

While at the hospital, Bailey and the team will visit with children in their hospital rooms, work with them in the chemotherapy unit, and help provide motivation during speech and therapy sessions in the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department.

Bailey will receive important rest periods throughout the day and go home each night with Nurse Morita.

While some Japanese hospitals allow visitations from pets, Bailey’s presence will affect a significant change in standard policy. And for seriously ill children who often spend weeks in the hospital, Bailey’s daily visits will be a source of solace, comfort and aloha.

HCI, founded by Will and Mo Maurer, began as a ministry at Hope Chapel in 2000. It has grown to include an Upcountry training facility with more than 40 graduate teams statewide.

“We are so thankful for all of the community support we have received,” said Maurer. “We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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Jewel Gadient—A Testimony
Jewel Gadient, 8, of Kīhei and her service dog, Grace, are recent graduates of Hawai‘i Canines for Independence. Grace has been trained to assist Jewel, who has cerebral palsy, in many ways, including helping her to stand and walk.

“We’ve already seen such a huge improvement in Jewel,” said Ivana, Jewel’s mom. “Grace really motivates her to speak and do her therapy exercises. She likes to say ‘good girl’ and ‘I love you’ to Grace.



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