RiversideEkkoRRINewport News, VA — Saint Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke recently donated the first-ever “facility dog” to Riverside Rehabilitation Institute in an effort to provide a wider range of care and therapy choices for patients. “Ekko,” an affectionate and outgoing Golden Retriever mix, was raised and specifically trained to be a service dog, but instead of serving a single person, she is utilized throughout the rehab center to provide help to a number of patients on any given day.

From a physical therapy standpoint, which typically helps people with their mobility, Ekko may be utilized to help a patient who is working on their balance. “It’s a more challenging task then just walking down the hallway by themselves because now the patients have something to hold on to that brings them joy and makes it more meaningful to walk farther,” says Wendy Bunting, Therapy Director for Riverside Rehabilitation Institute. “Similarly, Ekko’s talents can be incorporated into physician-endorsed treatment plans for occupational, speech and recreational therapy. She can be used as a tool that is needed during those sessions for a person to work on whatever their goals are in more fun and significant ways.”

Ekko has been with the rehab center since June and is already making an impact. She works a regular eight-hour day, five days a week and goes home with Bunting at night and over the weekends. “She actually gets bored over the weekends because she’s trained to be given commands to execute tasks and she really gets a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction out of that,” says Bunting. “We’ve had to come up with some games at home that allow her to work and have something to do. But she’s always anxious to get back to work on Mondays.”

Saint Francis’ underlying goal in providing service and facility dogs is to increase public awareness of their non-profit program and demonstrate exactly what service dogs can do for people of varying disabilities or needs. Service dogs take over two years to train and are worth $20,000 to $25,000 in terms of the investment of training, care and nurturing. “Saint Francis is looking for different types of facilities in the future to place service animals,” says Bunting. “Starting with a rehab hospital was a natural fit, in my opinion. They knew that a lot of the tasks that dogs do for individuals lend themselves well to therapy and having a hospital that does therapy makes the Riverside Rehabilitation Institute a good place to start as far as placing a facility dog goes.”


Published: October 12, 2011