Every morning after I get myself ready for work, I grab my dog Ralph’s green vest and watch as he wags his tail and ducks his head so I can put it on him. Then, my best buddy and I get in the car and go to work together. I think bringing Ralph with me is one of the reasons I am often told I have the best job in the world. And I agree with that to my core. In some ways it feels like I need to be pinched, because this cannot possibly be my job.
What I don’t often talk about, however, is that it is not in any sense an easy job. In fact, there are many days that it is extremely difficult. While I am exceedingly proud of the comfort and happiness Ralph brings to so many in his role as facility dog at Cook Children’s Medical Center, the reality is that in just one eight hour day as Ralph’s partner, I bear witness to some of the highest highs and the lowest lows experienced by patients and families.
On any given day, I may sit in utter silence while Ralph snuggles a patient who landed in the hospital after attempting suicide, and then leave to attend a breakout party for a child finally going home from the bone marrow transplant unit; we may distract a child from a blood draw and then leave to say our goodbyes to a dying child.
Some days we work to show a child who has been abused what gentleness looks like, and some days we put his paw print on a canvas to congratulate a family on reaching the end of treatment. Together as a pair, we act as cheerleaders, tear-catchers, and secret-keepers. And the truth of this work is our hearts break often. It is the great challenge of this work, in my opinion, to continually put our hearts back together so that we can be available to the next child and family that need us.
Lucky for us, we also get to play a role in helping kids find joy through circumstances that are sometimes unimaginable, we get to celebrate achievements and milestones, however big or small, and we get to have a front-row seat to the miracle of human resilience.
When I go to work, I try to always remember the enormous opportunity in front of me and Ralph, which far outweighs any challenges we encounter. At least a couple of times every week, a parent or a caregiver tells me that meeting Ralph was the first time they saw their child smile in days or even weeks. That is the reason we do what we do.
How has your dog been a miracle-worker in your life? Tell us the story in the comments.
Kizzy Marco grew up in Chicago and is a graduate of the University of Iowa. She has loved dogs her whole life, starting with the Cairn Terrier her family got when she was 5 years old (she wanted to name him StarBright, which her siblings still mock to this day). Now Kizzy has her dream job which is improving outcomes for hospitalized kids with the help of her Golden Retriever, Ralph Lauren.