Touro recently added two new employees to their roster … unlike any of the employees in the hospital’s 167 years. Touro and Indie are the newest team members in the Touro Rehabilitation Center, and they are of the four-legged variety. You could say they are Touro’s “little something extras!”
Both Labrador Retrievers, Touro is a 3 ½ month old male and Indie is a month younger than her work buddy. Their days at the hospital start early, around 7:00 am, arriving with their puppy raisers, employees of Touro. Touro’s puppy raiser, Maggie Homer, is a speech therapist at Touro. Indie’s puppy raiser, Maggie Watson, is a physical therapist working in Touro’s Rehabilitation Center. The puppies put in a full day alongside their raisers, going through the paces of training constantly at the therapists’ side.
They came to Touro through a partnership with United States Veterans Service Dogs (USVSD), a New Orleans-area based organization. The mission of USVSD was created for and is dedicated to helping veterans return to a new “normal” by training and placing quality service dogs with veterans. The specially trained dogs provide support to mitigate the effects of mental and physical disabilities.
They start puppy training at eight weeks of age. For the next year, they will be trained in 30 specific commands, including the basics such as potty and kennel training, sit, stay, and heel. There are specific commands that a future service animal must master, including tugging, lay on, close-as in doors-and learning to refrain from eating off the floor. This last command will prevent a service dog from potentially consuming medications that may be dropped on the ground.
“Touro will also learn to read,” Maggie Homer says with pride. Touro will be taught to read flash cards with commands on them versus verbally being told to perform a command. There are up to 50 words a service dog can potentially master.
Touro and Indie will remain with their puppy raisers until they begin more formal training under the direction of USVSD at 16-18 months of age. Once training is complete, usually around 20-24 months, they will be permanently partnered with a U.S. Veteran.
Touro Rehabilitation Center has long been a leader in rehabilitative medicine, from founding the first physical therapy department in the city of New Orleans in 1929 to today, offering state of the art facilities including a new outpatient rehabilitation center that opened in April 2016 and newly renovated inpatient rehabilitation unit and state of the art gym located in the hospital.
Cody Bellanger, CEO and Director of Training and Client Services for USVSD, was familiar with Touro’s Rehabilitation Center through his previous work with Veterans in their care. Seeing the new space for rehabilitation treatment in the hospital, complete with an outdoor track, sparked the idea of partnering Touro’s professional staff with the puppies.
“Our partnership with Touro hospital allows us to help the patients and staff through their use of our puppies in their daily jobs, as well as raises awareness for our organization,” says Cody. “This awareness allows us to get more of the community involved in either donating to our organization to further our mission or to have other individuals volunteer to raise puppy’s like Touro and Indie.”
The puppies also interact with rehabilitation patients throughout the day, both in the center and in Touro’s case visiting patients in their rooms. When Indie is old enough, she will do the same. Another benefit of puppy training within the center is the exposure Touro and Indie receive to the type of equipment they will likely encounter when partnered with a Veteran, such as wheelchairs, treadmills, and other forms of equipment used in treatment facilities.
“You can see the happiness they bring to patients and to our co-workers,” says Maggie Watson. “Being in rehab is hard, so the joy these little guys inspire is something extra for sure.”