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Memorial's New Facility Dog Comforts Both Oncology Patients and Staff

June 05, 2023

Contact: Carrie Burkett / 603-356-5461 x2264

NORTH CONWAY, NH — Alicia Plante, a local, 33-year-old oncology patient at Memorial Hospital, first met Haze, the oncology dog, while she was still in training with Assistance Canine Training Services (ACTS). Haze is now a full-time facility dog in Memorial Hospital’s oncology department.

Alicia Plante, Memorial Hospital Oncology Patient, enjoys a visit from Haze, the oncology dog
“Haze brings a calmness,” explains Plante. “She was here when I received some news and she sensed my anxiety. Just by being there, she takes your mind off things. She can sense our need for comfort. She is the perfect addition to the oncology department.”

The work of a facility dog is similar in scope to that of a therapy dog, though with a difference in scale. Both therapy dogs and facility dogs offer comfort. Where therapy dogs work an hour or two every week, facility dogs undergo extensive training by organizations and typically work 5 days a week. Many facility dogs perform specific trained skills depending on their placements.

ACTS offers training for dogs to become either facility dogs or service dogs. Puppies are placed into a puppy raiser home and attend class every week. The dogs take several field trips to public spaces to expose them to different places and experiences. Training continues until the dogs are over a year old, at which point they are evaluated for placement as either a facility, service dog, or “dream dog” as a family pet. All ACTS trained dogs receive the same foundational training and then build on those skills once their role is determined.

Kathy Munroe, RN, Clinical Supervisor of Memorial Hospital’s oncology department, started talks years ago about getting a facility dog at Memorial Hospital. “At the time, it didn’t work out. COVID came and we were all preoccupied. When Haze was coming up through the training program, they remembered us.”

“We were looking for the right fit for Haze and not finding it,” explains Robin Crocker, Director of Canine Development at ACTS. “We have placed a dog in an oncology department before at Wentworth-Douglas, so we have a firsthand model for what that looked like. What’s unique about Haze is that she does wander [around the department] and that takes a specific dog. We knew she would be good at that. It takes a lot of independence, good manners, and an intuitive knowledge of where they are needed, and not all dogs are cut out for that.”

Haze lives with Munroe. While doing her work, Haze keeps Munroe in sight while independently roaming around the floor. If she senses a patient wants to see her, Munroe follows at first to make sure the patient is okay with a visit. Returning patients look forward to Haze’s greetings.

“She comes with a story,” explains Munroe. “Candy, Haze’s puppy trainer, had a good friend who was an oncology patient. Candy would take Haze to him every day where she laid with him and loved him through the end. Haze has that instinct for people who need love."

Fundraising efforts organized by the Friends of Kearsarge Inn covered the entire fee in memory of longtime innkeeper, Bridie. The fee for a facility dog is $7,500.

Stu Dunlop, owner of the Kearsarge Inn, remembers Bridie, “She came over from Ireland and started working for us the day we opened. She was our first employee 18 years ago. She was never late and never called out until she got COVID and cancer. Bridie not only remembered all of the guests, but, as a pet friendly inn, she also remembered their dogs and made sure there was a bowl of water or a special treat for them. Her diagnosis and death were very sudden, and no one had a chance to say goodbye. Our guests rallied around this tribute to Bridie and the money was raised very quickly.”

When asked what Bridie would have thought about Haze, Dunlop responds, “She would have loved it. She would have given every penny and would have been the first to get on board. As an oncology patient herself, Bridie would have said, ‘Forget the patients, get Haze in there for the nurses!’ Hopefully Haze makes it a little easier for the staff, they're an incredible team.”

Plante had a similar take on the value of a facility dog for the benefit of the staff. Plante has been an oncology patient at Memorial since October of 2022. She has become close with the nurses and agrees that, as much as Haze is there for the patients, her presence on the floor is just as impactful for the staff.

“The nurses have the weight of all the patients on them," said Plante. "There is such a heaviness we are dealing with. You can't pour from an empty cup. But it doesn't matter how busy they are, they'll still give Haze a moment of attention. If the staff are in a better place, they have the ability to take on more.”

Haze has been a part of the Memorial Hospital oncology team for over a month. Munroe reports that she gets lots of breaks and sleeps very soundly after busy days in the department. The staff and patients have responded positively to Haze as the newest addition to the team.


About Memorial Hospital
Memorial Hospital is a not-for-profit 25-bed Critical Access Hospital located in North Conway, NH, and is a member of the MaineHealth family. Its hospital services include a 24-hour emergency department, surgery center, clinical laboratory, heart health & wellness programs, imaging services, cardiopulmonary care, family birthing center, oncology, chemotherapy and infusion services. Practices include primary care and family medicine, diabetes care, behavioral health, women's health, podiatry, orthopedics and physical therapy. Memorial Hospital is also home to The Merriman House nursing home, which provides senior care services in a comfortable, home-like setting. For more information, or call 603-356-5461.

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