Children’s hospital dogs celebrate birthdays with a doughnut-themed party

(Featured photo: Nugget watches as Kaine Middleton colors a doughnut during the canine’s birthday party at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia Aug. 31. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)

 When going into a patient’s room at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, Harleigh Smith often follows her partner’s lead.

“Nugget goes to a certain person. Sometimes, it’s the patient; sometimes, it’s the parent,” said Smith, a child life specialist at the hospital who works with Nugget, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever specially trained as a therapy dog. The two dogs are owned by the hospital and designated as facility dogs.

Smith said Nugget instinctively knows who needs her friendly, calming personality the most, and when Nugget has finished with her person, she and Smith switch places so that Smith can answer any questions patients or their families have.

Nugget and Casey wait for their birthday treats from Harleigh Smith and Macie Meeks. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

On Aug. 31, employees and patients celebrated both Nugget and her fellow therapy dog Casey with a doughnut-themed birthday gathering in the hospital’s fifth floor playroom. Nugget turned 8 on Aug. 19 while Casey turned 6 on July 13. The party would later travel to the fourth floor and to a few patient rooms.

The pups received doughnuts (both real and plush) and mini dog bone treats, a favorite of the birthday girls. They were dressed for the occasion with bandanas in a doughnut print that were embroidered with their names.

The patients, who were able to go to the playroom, participated in crafts in keeping with a doughnut theme and received gift bags. There were lots of photo ops during the happy event.

“They’re cool,” said 5-year-old Kaine Middleton, of the canines, as he colored a doughnut in the playroom.

Smith pointed to the adhesive bandages on the table and told Kaine that they were decorated like sprinkles so he could add sprinkles to his doughnut picture

The party was the third time Kaine had seen the dogs during his hospital stay, and he didn’t mind as Nugget sat nearby watching him color.

The therapy dogs fill a vital role in the hospital, according to the child life specialists.

“They really help make the hospital less scary,” said Macie Meeks, a child life specialist who is Casey’s handler and works with children going to surgery.

Smith said Nugget is like the calm in the middle of a storm. She can help alleviate the feelings of worry or stress the children and their families are feeling.

Casey and Nugget enjoy their birthday doughnuts.

Nugget is often there as a child is getting a shot or having blood drawn. She often winds up with her head in a child’s lap, providing comfort when its most needed.

CHOG’s therapy dogs came to the hospital when they were each about 2 years old. They had been trained at Canine Assistants in Alpharetta, Ga. While they are owned by the hospital, the dogs live with Meeks and Smith, who are their handlers also known “dog moms.”

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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