Registered nurse Amanda Fremin, a 10-year Methodist Stone Oak Hospital veteran, was having a difficult day, marked both by personal loss and a cardiac patient’s death.
But then in walked Chanel, a dog trained to soothe first responders and medical staff, and she felt a little less overwhelmed.
“I laid on the floor for like 30 minutes and I just sat there and cried. She was the only reason why I was able to finish my shift,” Fremin said.
The 2-year-old golden retriever Labrador mix is the most popular fixture at the hospital, some would say. She helps staff members decompress, according to Brandon Miller, the emergency medical services relations manager. He works with Chanel.
Miller said, “The dog was a way to do a mental reset, take a short break, and then be able to go back to taking care of patients.”
Chanel came to Methodist in April, but her role got a special highlight in May during EMS Week.
Two other canine companions participate in the project under the umbrella of Methodist Healthcare, working at other San Antonio medical facilities in the chain.
Most recently, the trio visited first responders and infirmaries in El Paso to lend support for those handling the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Walmart.
“We’ve witnessed the powerful impacts of these dogs at our hospitals and are grateful to be able to share their gifts with the teams in El Paso,” said Emily McLoughlin, a Methodist spokeswoman.
According to officials, specially trained dogs give relief to health care workers and first responders physically and mentally affected by exposure to trauma and major disasters.
Hospital workers in general are under immense stress on a day-to-day basis, sometimes leading to detrimental habits to cope, officials said.
Methodist is searching for healthier ways for people to deal with pressure. When medical personnel are a little more relaxed, they are able to provide better patient care, according to Miller.
“Our doctors, our nurses and our techs are literally walking 10 feet to the next room and they have to change their game face,” Miller said. “They can’t show what happened in the other room is affecting them.”
Suicide rates among paramedics and other first responders are high, due to cumulative stress, Miller said.
“I wish we all had our own Chanel,” Fremin said.
Miller added, as far as he knows, there are only two programs in the country with dogs dedicated to the well-being of hospital staff.
On a recent day, Chanel and Miller completed their daily rounds, making sure the dog interacted with the front desk, emergency department, housekeeping and patients.
“Everybody’s got this unspoken tension, they’re overwhelmed and then Chanel comes in and you can just feel the pressure alleviate for a few minutes,” Fremin said.
Originally intended for first responders, hospital officials soon realized man’s best friend could help every department at the medical facility.
The average wait for a trained dog like Chanel is 30 months, but Service Dogs Inc. accepted Methodist’s application in eight weeks.
Chanel experienced two years of instruction at SDI. Starting out as a seeing-eye companion, the focus changed when handlers noticed her sociability.
“One of the things that they found with Chanel in her training was that she could seek out somebody who is in crisis, and that was her natural gift,” Miller said. “We have seen that several times now.”
Jeffrey Keuper, a Shavano Park paramedic and firefighter, said the four-legged friend provides a valuable resource that helps break down emotional barriers.
“It’s like you’re looking forward to seeing a good friend,” he said.