Loki is a 2-year-old therapy dog at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
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What was supposed to be a quick trip to the hospital turned into a 2 hour long venture thanks to @nancy.d63’s sewing skills! Everyone had to get a picture of me in my new scrub cap, but I understand why 💁🏼♀️. Even a few hospital Vice Presidents made a pit stop for some puppy cuddles! If I look this good in my white coat, I’ll never even make it to the patient rooms before getting swarmed... Thanks so much again Nancy, I made sure to tell them who was responsible for making me look this good 😘🥰❤️❤️
The Rottweiler typically spends her days comforting patients at the hospital, but since the coronavirus outbreak has prevented therapy dog visits, Loki and her owner, Carolina Benzel, have come up with new ways to connect with patients.
The two have begun conducting digital therapy dog visits.
“I’ll FaceTime and Loki and will go outside and sit in my mom’s front yard,” Benzel told GMA.
Benzel helps patients relax by asking them to close their eyes and imagine being elsewhere, outside of the hospital.
She encourages them to, “Imagine sitting at a park and we’re having a conversation so they can hear the birds, they can see people walking by. So that’s kind of how we’ve been doing it now.”
The second-year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine started acclimating Loki to a hospital environment when the pup was 18 weeks old. Benzel says Loki “was a natural.”
“I’ve never met a dog that’s so empathetic. It’s kind of strange. There have been many circumstances at the hospital where she can just read a situation where a patient is in a very bad way or a family member is going through a loss,” said Benzel.
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Before the coronavirus outbreak, Benzel would dress the Rotty in a custom made white doctor’s coat for visits with patients. They would visit patients at the hospital together 3 days a week.
But then COVID-19 hit and Caroline “got pulled from school and the front lines… I was used to being at the hospital multiple days a week with Loki.”
Since changing their routine visits via FaceTime, Benzel has noticed how the hospital staff facilitating the remote visits are being affected by the protective gear they are required to wear day in, day out.
“I was seeing the masks doing the damage to the nursing staff, the doctors, the social workers, because everyone, custodians to doctors are all required to wear it,” Benzel said.
So Benzel got to work pulling together what she calls “Hero Healing Kits.”
The kits are stuffed with hypoallergenic lotion for dry, irritated skin, packs of gum to ease dry mouth, medicated powder for skin irritation, vaseline, chapstick, and coffee and tea packets.
Each kit includes a thank you note affirming the heroic acts performed by hospital staff every day at this time. The package is made complete with a picture of Loki’s face that could lift anyone’s spirits.
Benzel’s neighbor has helped her assemble around 1,400 kits so far, funded in part by up to $400 raised by medical students. The initiative has spread to Philadelphia, where a student has begun another kit assembly operation.
Benzel has had the hospital staff in mind since they supported her and took care of Loki when the dog had to recently undergo ACL surgery for a broken foot. The surgery needed to be paid for upfront and Benzel didn’t have the cash.
“I didn’t know how I was going to come up with that kind of money as a medical student,” Benzel said. “The hospital staff [at UMMC] suggested I do a GoFundMe, and the whole surgery and physical therapy ended up being covered by donations within two weeks.”
“They did that for me when I was down and I know the people there are going through a hard time now themselves. I wanted to do what I could to return the favor and show them how much I care about them and the UMMC system.”
Benzel told Fox 17 she realized she wanted to train a therapy dog after caring for her sick grandfather.
“My grandfather was sick and I lived with him in his hospital room for a month,” Caroline explained. “When he would see this dog, he would light up.”
Benzel hopes her work with Loki spreads some much-needed positivity and inspires others to find ways to give back.
“Loki truly is an amazing dog and it’s been such a blessing to be able to be able to spread her personality and share it with the hospital system as a whole,” said Benzel.
To help Benzel make more kits, donate via their Amazon Wishlist.