Pet News

Doggie Brigade Interview

Written by Rachel Phelps

I am always in awe of dogs that do extraordinary things and help out humans in need.  Well today, I have the great opportunity to interview a dog who is a true hero in my eyes.  Her name is Brandie and she is a member of the Akron Children’s Hospital Doggie Brigade.  Rather than trying to explain it myself, I will let her tell you about this amazing program.

Preston:  Brandie, thank you so much for sitting down with me today, on your very comfortable dog bed I might add, to tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do for the little humans.  My first question for you is to please tell me about the Akron Children’s Hospital and the Doggie Brigade.

Brandie:  Thanks, Preston, it is a pleasure to share my space with you. And thanks for the bark out regarding my role as a Doggie Brigade member at Akron Children’s. It has been a tail wagging experience to be a Doggie Brigade member in the second oldest dog visitation program in the country. I am only 56 years old (8 in people years), so I wasn’t sniffing around the hospital with the original members 20 years ago. But I am proud to spend my days helping kids and their parents get through rough times. And I earn a lot of dog biscuits throughout the day, so I must be doing something right.

Our job is to distract our patients from what would otherwise be a long day in the hospital. We listen and cuddle with the patients, their families and the hospital staff.

I am also one of the Doggie Brigade members that helps kids perform physical and occupational therapies. My job is to make therapy seem less like work and more like fun. And I don’t want to sound like I am bragging, but I have an amazing canine power that allows me to reach some of the kids who don’t respond to conventional therapy.

Preston:  WOW, that is an amazing program!  Based on my research, I understand there are over 80 dogs that participate.  Can you tell me a little bit about the training involved and how they select dogs like you to participate?

Brandie: My owner Don Weisel was more concerned about taking the Pet Partners test than me. I knew I could do it, no problem. You have to prove to the humans that you are a good listener. I even had to walk straight past a treat and a toy without trying to get it.

You have to accommodate people touching you when you aren’t looking. I personally don’t mind mob scenes or walking calmly by wheelchairs, which is also part of the test.

Preston:  What does a typical day at the hospital entail for a pet volunteer like you?

Brandie:  I basically spend a lot of time helping kids rehabilitate from chronic illnesses like cerebral palsy and I make regular visits to Akron Children’s hematology/oncology unit, where I’ve developed many relationships with the cancer patients. And I do a fabulous job of lifting the spirits of the hospital staff. I adore them and vice versa. Sometimes I go to the hospital to help out with a few therapy appointments in the morning and then I return in the afternoon to help out even more. I try to fit in a few naps here and there, but I like to be busy. After all, labs are working dogs. It’s in my blood.

Preston:  Do you have a favorite child you have visited that you helped them get through their treatments?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about him or her?

Brandie:  I’ve worked with many special kids the past six years. One of my patients is 4 years old and she likes to help walk me up and down the halls and throw the ball for me to fetch as part of her physical therapy. She has an artificial arm and leg, so I help keep her motivated and focused on learning how to use her new limbs. She used to be scared of dogs before I became part of her weekly appointments. Now she sees me as a sort of security blanket. We make a great team.

Preston:  The Doggie Brigade is celebrating its 20th anniversary as the hospital’s volunteer pet program.  What kind of special celebration is planned?  Will you get any extra treats … hehehehe?

Brandie:  We celebrated the Doggie Brigades’ 20th anniversary at the AA Affiliate professional baseball park in Akron, Canal Park. Every summer, they have two Dog Days of Summer events, where patrons can bring along their dogs to the Akron Aeros game. A whole pack of us from the Brigade showed up to howl around and have a good time. At first, I was a little hesitant about eating the complimentary hot dog, but when I realized what those are really made of, I thought they were delicious.

Preston:  Many owners think their dogs would be great therapy dogs/dog volunteers at their local hospital or nursing home.  Unfortunately, as you and I know, not all dogs are suited for those types of visits.  Can you give pet parents any tips on what kind of temperament is best for a dog that visits kids in hospital?

Brandie:  Well you know the saying: “There aren’t any bad dogs, just bad owners.” But certainly some of us are better suited for therapy work. I am one very laid back lady. I love everyone, especially children. Unlike some of my canine brethren, I like to receive hugs and nothing seems to phase me.

But perhaps the most important thing is to have a great handler. I love Don and I look to him for direction when I’m unsure. If the situation is cool for Don, then it’s cool for me. You have to have that type of connection with your person, or it isn’t going to work out.

Preston:  Now for a more personal question, tell us a little bit about yourself.  What do you like to do for fun? Do you let your hair down when you’re “off duty” at home and play fetch or chase the neighborhood squirrels?

Brandie:  Of course, I like squirrels as much as any dog. But I tend to make more of a fuss about the deer that try to squat in my yard from time to time. I love the water and my favorite place to swim is at our place in West Virginia. I love to travel anywhere in our minivan, especially when I get to ride shotgun. I sleep with three other labs in my owners’ king size bed every night. And I am always happy to fetch, especially if there’s a tennis ball involved.

Preston:  Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.  We are so in awe of what you do to help out the kids at the Akron Children’s Hospital.  Keep up the great work!  I hope the next time I’m up in your neck of the woods, I can stop by to say hi to the other pet volunteers and shake their paws to say thank you from!

To learn more about Brandie, check out her blog (yep she writes too, what a talented dog!) and watch her great video about a day in the life as a brigade dog.  Go to:

About the author

Rachel Phelps

Rachel Phelps, “America’s Pet Parent,” is an award-winning writer, photographer, and certified dog trainer. She keeps busy managing the career of her Internet celebrity dog Preston from Preston Speaks. Her three Westies — who think they are mini-humans — and three cats rule the house. To learn more about Rachel go to: Rachel Phelps Website