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Riley Hospital introduces first full-time therapy dog

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Patients at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health are getting to know a member of the care team that stands apart from the rest.

In fact, he is different from any other caregiver walking the halls — because he does so on four legs.

Roscoe, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, has been named the hospital’s first full-time therapy dog.

In July, the dog’s owner and handler, nurse practitioner Denise Shalkowski, started bringing Roscoe to work after both completed training through Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN).

Shalkowski and Roscoe work specifically in the in-patient rehabilitation unit.

“The first time I brought him in, it was really just a profound experience for me. To this day, every day that I walk the halls, people are smiling,” Shalkowski said.

After three months on the job, Roscoe’s resume includes experience in offering comfort to young patients who are struggling with pain, recovery or emotional stress.

“So often the therapists may be struggling with some of the kids and getting them to participate. Then, Roscoe jumps in and the kids stop crying. They’re focused on him and so the therapists are able to do what they need to do to help the child recover,” Shalkowski said.

Sarah Hall, 12, credits Roscoe in part for her earlier-than-expected discharge from rehab. She met Roscoe just days after surgery to remove a tumor on her spine.

“It was really cool because I was kind of stressed out because I just got in rehab and it was so different. He kind of calmed me down,” Hall explained. “He’s going to help so many people get out of here faster and make their stay better.”

Roscoe accompanies Shalkowski every work day. He’s been welcomed as a source of comfort and a tool in rehabilitation when children are asked to actively pet his fur, walk with him to improve balance and play fetch.