'Brightening their day': Local K9 teams bolster holiday cheer at Sacred Heart Medical Center

<p><p>Christmas came early at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Wednesday when some four-legged friends helped deliver toys to children and much-needed relief to staff.</p></p><p><p>About 30 K-9 dogs split up to make the rounds at the hospital with their officers at the invitation of the hospital’s own K-9 safety unit. The K-9 team at Sacred Heart serves as deterrent dogs, said Patrick McKenna, who supervises the unit.</p></p><p><p>For the third year in a row, festive pups visited patients and staff for the holidays, but this year was the largest procession, McKenna said.</p></p><p><p>McKenna invited local law enforcement agencies to participate in the holiday tradition, and K-9 units from Spokane to Kootenai, Rathdrum, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene all joined the festivities.</p></p><p><p>“It was a day of spreading joy to children and caregivers who are having a hard time, and as we know with COVID, it’s been difficult on our caregivers,” McKenna said.</p></p><p><p>Dogs dressed up with Christmas lights, antlers and holiday garb walked the hospital halls. Some patients came out to greet them, and some caregivers enjoyed having a dog to pet.</p></p><p><p>Sacred Heart has not had therapy dogs in the building lately, so the sight of dogs walking through the halls was a surprise to many.</p></p><p><p>“Just being able to (go on rounds) and pet the dogs, it’s just brightening their day,” said Mary Jo Moore, director of critical care at Sacred Heart. “It’s amazing.” </p></p><p><p>Officers and dogs were not allowed in patient rooms, but Providence staff handed out gifts in rooms, along with Santa, who tagged along with some of the K-9 teams.</p></p><p><p>One boy ran out of his room to hug Zeus, a Spokane police K-9.</p></p><p><p>“Putting a smile on his face is the most rewarding thing,” Spokane police Officer Todd Belitz said.</p></p><p><p>Providence hospitals in Spokane were the first to have a designated K9 unit on-site statewide. This year, the dogs did not bite anyone, but the teams were deployed 950 times to deter any violence to patients or caregivers.</p></p><p><p>There are three teams, with three dogs. McKenna’s dog, Sarge, was the first K-9 in a hospital in Washington state. Dex and Rocco, who is named after the Catholic saint who protected against the plague, are also on the team.</p></p><p><p>Sarge wore antlers and his ugly Christmas sweater on Wednesday. He looked less threatening than a typical workday.</p></p>