Meet Olaf: A true companion for Mary Bridge patients
At Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, everyone adores Olaf – not the snowman, rather our beloved 5-year-old facility dog.Mar 15th, 2022
By Kalyn Kinomoto
At Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, everyone adores Olaf – not the snowman, rather our beloved 5-year-old facility dog.
Olaf is a valued member of our Child Life Services team and a familiar face for many Mary Bridge patients, providers and families. He is a highly trained and certified facility dog, specializing in work with pediatric patients. He completed an intense two-year accredited program with Canine Companions, a nonprofit that provides expertly trained service dogs to people with disabilities and to professionals in healthcare settings, free of charge.
Kristen Bishop, Olaf's handler, is one of the child life services team members at Mary Bridge Children’s. After completing a lengthy application and approval process with Canine Companions, she spent 18 months on the waiting list before being matched with a facility dog. In an intensive two-week training and examination period, Kristen and Olaf were matched as a team in April 2019 and have been inseparable since.
In their work together, Kristen and Olaf aim to minimize stress for patients going through various procedures and treatments. For some patients, this looks like racing to take medicine – a game where patients try to finish their medicine before Olaf finishes his "medicine" (water in a syringe). For others, it's a simple game of fetch in the hallways that almost always works to distract patients from lengthy visits or hospitalizations.
"The use and inclusion of Olaf provides motivation, encouragement, support and comfort to our patients," Kristen said. "He knows more than 40 commands that we use in our daily interactions with the kids we serve."
What’s the difference between a facility dog and a therapy dog?
Olaf is a facility dog and works exclusively with Kristen who plans and facilitates interventions based on the needs of each patient. He is directly involved with patient care and treatment goals, providing clinical and procedural support, often to patients with chronic conditions. Other dogs you see at Mary Bridge are therapy dogs. They attend a training course and pass an evaluation prior to visiting but have the sole purpose of bringing smiles and comfort to patients. Our pet therapy teams are made up of a group of wonderful volunteers, overseen by Volunteer Services.
Recently, Kristen and Olaf have been providing support and comfort at COVID-19 vaccine clinics in the community, sponsored by MultiCare’s Center for Health Equity and Wellness. Partnering with the clinics to provide access closer to home is another way Kristen and Olaf have teamed up to support the mission of MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children’s and live out our mission of partnering for healing and a healthy future.
“It’s not uncommon for Olaf to help patients who are scared of needles and pokes,” Kristen says. “Seeing him is a great distraction for patients and often when he rests his head on their laps, they quickly calm down. It’s a win-win because not only are we supporting patients and the community, but also Olaf gets a bunch of extra pets and belly rubs!”
Olaf is an important member of our Child Life Services team and just in the last year, he’s been part of more than 2,100 patient visits. You can learn more about Olaf and follow his adventures on Instagram.
March is recognized as Child Life Month. Child Life Services, including ongoing support for Olaf and our therapy dogs, at Mary Bridge is a donor-supported program that provides free support to patients and their siblings. To learn more or to find out how you can help, visit www.marybridge.org/mary-bridge-experience/child-life-services/.