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Mayo Clinic dog offers her skills to patients in La Crosse

January 1, 2019

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A new employee at Mayo Clinic Health System has made quite the impression. Patients stop her in the hallway to greet her and roll down their windows when she walks by in the parking lot to offer a quick hello.

Her photo ID says Luna Morgan, but the golden haired canine is known simply as Luna to staff and patients, joining the Mayo team in November as a facility dog. The sweet-natured yellow Labrador has quickly won over staff and patients in numerous departments with her gentle bedside manner, sleepy-eyed visage and arsenal of commands.

Two-year-old Luna, raised through the California-based Canine Companions for Independence, is owned by Mayo occupational therapist Lisa Morgan, who has been involved with the organization since 1990, raising six puppies for their first 18 months of life before they entered CCI’s regional training service. The dogs are all bred specifically for the two-year program, but only 50 percent graduate. Those who do must undergo annual recertification, along with their handler, the Lacrosse Tribune reported .

Morgan was matched with Luna in November after the pair underwent a final training session in Ohio, with Luna leaving with knowledge of 40 commands. CCI graduates come at no charge to the recipient, and Mayo was selected as one of two facilities to benefit from a sponsorship from PetSmart, the funds of which covered training and other costs.

Luna is the first facility dog in the entire Mayo Clinic enterprise, bringing a series of approvals and requirements, but the partnership, Morgan says, was meant to be.

“I consider Canine Companions the Mayo Clinic of service dogs,” Morgan said of the communal focus on rigorous research, education and care. “Both want the best outcome.”

Luna is categorized as a facility dog, trained and certified to assist with physical and occupational therapy, though she also boasts the benefits of a therapy dog. The amiable and well-mannered lab has delivered treats in a basket around the cancer care center, taken strolls with cardiac rehab patients and provided comfort to pediatric and ICU patients.

“She was lying in bed with a 9-year-old patient, and his dad said it was perfect timing because he missed his dog,” Morgan recalled. “Just when you think you have holistic care down, bring in a dog and it’s a whole new level. (Luna) adds a depth to our care we can’t otherwise provide, on a physical level or on an emotional level — it’s a sixth dimension of care.”

For physical therapy patient Kimberly Carmona, 52, Luna provides encouragement and incentive to work through exercises addressing her back pain. The proud owner of a bichon frise, Carmona was delighted for her first session with Luna recently, greeting the eager canine with a pat on the head and smiling widely as they rolled a ball back and forth, Luna nudging it with her nose. The exercise, designed to help Carmona with mobility through bending at the waist, was one of three she and Luna partnered for, moving on to a rotation, with Carmona passing Luna a cone at her right and twisting to collect it from the dog on her left.

“Kim is hesitant to use motion since it hurts,” said physical therapist Julie Olson, who has worked with Carmona for the past month. “The dog is something she enjoys, so pairing that with things that are difficult makes it less (stressful) for her. Dogs calm down the nervous system ... it’s another tool we can use with chronic pain patients.”

During her third exercise, Carmona sat on a stability ball, grasping a rubber loop while Luna tugged at the other end. The game engages the core and promotes balance, and Carmona was having a blast, joking, ”(Luna’s) more fun than Julie!”

The “furry little bundle of joy” has brought great energy to Mayo, Morgan said, likening her to a “gathering place” where people engage in conversation about their dogs and their days while lavishing Luna with belly rubs and behind-the-ear scratches. In the evenings, Luna heads home with Morgan to snuggle with her kids, trail after the household cats and watch Packer games.

Luna will likely be a Mayo dog for life, as Morgan and the hospital continue to find ways to integrate Luna and her capabilities into various departments and programs, refining her existing skills and introducing new ones.

“The response has been incredible so far,” Morgan said. “I anticipate her involvement to grow.”

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com

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