Dogs provide therapy for staff, patients at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Patients and staff at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital got a different dose of medicine on Wednesday — dog therapy medicine. 

Not once or twice, but many times the words "Oh, my goodness" and "how adorable" were heard as big smiles spread across patients' faces as Logan, a black and white Parti Standard Poodle, and Shyanne, a Miniature American Shepherd, made their way down the hospital halls with their handlers. 

"This is a program that we have been working on for several years," said Vicki Tarro, executive assistant CEO at HCA Fort Walton-Destin. 

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Bonnie London and her therapy dog, Shyanne, visit with patient Martell Spencer at the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital on Wednesday. Shyanne and fellow therapy dog Logan, a standard poodle, will be visiting the hospital every other Wednesday to spread cheer among patients and staff.

Tarro said they looked to launch the dog therapy program along with Dog-Harmony before COVID hit, but things were put on hold. 

Dog-Harmony, located in Santa Rosa Beach, is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the shelter dog population through ongoing humane education. Founder and professional dog trainer Nacy Bown works with dogs so they can be used as therapy dogs in schools and hospitals. 

"We're very happy to connect with Dog-Harmony to bring the dogs here. The reason is it's great therapy for everybody … not just the patients, but staff and everyone they encounter here. It's just going to make their day better and their continued healing with a therapy dog," Tarro said. 

"The staff has already asked, 'Are we coming to them first?'" Tarro said. 

Dogs go on hospital tour

Logan and Shyanne's first stop at the hospital was to the Human Resource Department for a photo for their own ID badge. 

The dogs sat and posed against the wall, as if having their photo taken for a driver's license. 

"This is the first time," said Cindy Halsey, who works with the hospital auxiliary. 

Handlers have to become part of the auxiliary to be able to bring their dogs into the hospital, Halsey explained. 

"We're so excited … I know they will be well-received," Halsey said. 

Jim Cole and his therapy dog, Logan, walk down the halls of the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital during a visit Wednesday. Logan, a standard poodle, and Shyanne, a miniature American shepherd, will be visiting the hospital every other Wednesday to spread cheer among patients and staff.

After getting their photo, the dogs walked down the hall past the administration, where staff came out as they walked by. 

"Isn't it crazy how people just ooh and aah," one staff member said. 

"You're so sweet, we love you," another commented as they walked past. 

The first assignment for Logan and Shyanne was in the emergency room.  

Again, as they walked by the desk in the ER, physicians, nurses and techs came from behind their computers to check out the dogs. 

Shyanne made a quick friend in the ER when she jumped right onto the bed of 12-year-old Martell Spencer. 

"She's adorable," Spencer said as he rubbed her belly. 

Logan was behind the curtain with another child spreading a little cheer. 

After visiting with a few others in the ER, the dogs were off to the second floor. 

While walking down the hall, Jessica Parsons, an ER nurse, chased them down. 

"Oh, my goodness … I'm so happy," she said as she knelt down to pet Logan. 

"You just made my day," said Parsons, who was in the middle of her 12-hour shift. Parsons said she left her husband standing in the ER, who had come on his break for a visit, to see the dogs. 

Nurse Jessica Parsons visits with therapy dog Logan at the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital on Wednesday. Logan, a standard poodle, and fellow therapy dog Shyanne, a miniature American shepherd, will be visiting the hospital every other Wednesday to spread cheer among patients and staff.

Once to the second floor, the dogs split up. Shyanne went to visit an elderly woman who was a dog lover. 

"You couldn't ask for a better dog for therapy," the woman said, who had a photo of her dog beside her bed. "They are so sweet and personable." 

Logan, with her big fluff of hair, was a big hit with the nurses, who said she had better hair than they did. 

Logan went to visit an elderly man who was there with his daughters. 

"Oh my goodness, your hair is so soft," one of the daughters said. 

"It's all about the big hair," she said as she tried to pull it into a pony tail. However, Logan was quick to shake it back out. 

Bonnie London, left, and her therapy dog, Shyanne, visit with patient Kathy Jo Hargrove Wednesday at the HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital. Shyanne, a miniature American shepherd, and Logan, a standard poodle, will be visiting the hospital every other Wednesday to spread cheer among patients and staff.

The dogs were at the hospital for two hours. 

"I'd say it was a huge hit. Very successful," Tarro said. 

Training dogs for the program

Bown said the dogs have to pass an examination to be part of the program. 

"Plus, a lot of it is temperament for the hospital," she said. 

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Bown has 36 working teams that go into 17 different schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties. 

Before bringing them into a hospital scenario they practice with the dogs and introduce them to the different things they might come in contact with such as wheelchairs, crutches and IV poles. 

"We want them to have fun and want to come again as well," Bown said of the dogs. 

More about the dogs

Shyanne is the 6-year-old dog of Bonnie London.  

"She's a champion dog that went from a beauty queen to a service dog. I'm very proud of her," London said. 

London said Shyanne has been a therapy dog for three to four years. 

Logan, 11, belongs to Jim Cole of Freeport. 

"He's a grand champion show dog. But his showing days are over," Cole said. 

"His claim to fame is working in the schools," Cole said. 

Shyanne and Logan will be making their rounds at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital every other Wednesday.