Comfort dog helps calm children getting COVID shots

Getting a COVID-19 shot can be scary, especially for many children in our community.  

MultiCare is thinking outside the box, they called in a four-legged friend, a canine companion, to help both parents and children stay calm during what many say is a 'ruff" and stressful time.  

MultiCare’s Community Outreach Program Manager, Sheri Mitches says the partnership started after recognizing every age group has a needle phobia and anxiety when it comes to getting vaccinated.

"We did see a significant increase in anxiety in our five to 11 population," Mitchell said.

The least vaccinated age group in our community according to Mitchell.  

Seattle Children’s offers COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children ages 5 to 11 at Seattle Children’s Hospital. 

Hoping to change the statistic she partnered with Child Life Specialist Kristen Bishop – to help cope with the phobia.  

Just a few paws away, you can find Olaf, a 5-year-old Labrador, a four-legged certified companion.  

Olaf works 40 hours a week at Mary Bridge Hospital, in Tacoma, where he spends his days supporting children through uncertainty.  

"Helping kids with testing procedures and feel more comfortable in the environment and really helping to motivate them and help them accomplish their health care goals," Bishop said.

He's now making a pit stop at pop-up vaccine clinics to help ease some of the kid's fears about getting their COVID shot. 
Mason Stahfest, 6, like many other children is afraid of needles.

He was hesitant to even walk in the door to Meeker Middle School’s cafeteria, a typically familiar space – where children laugh and share meals – now a place filled with anxiety, tension and an eerie feeling.

"I was nervous and scared," Stahfest said wiping his tears away.  

He's not the only one whose nervousness echoed.

Ethan Myers, 11, doesn’t get to interact with pets often, he too enjoyed having Olaf by his side.

"He put his head on my lap so I could pet him, it felt kind of calming," Myers said.

"Olaf really is here to help reduce the stress and anxiety that kids are feeling about getting their vaccines," Bishop said.

The furry friend isn’t just a distraction in those stressful moments, Olaf’s training helps him anticipate what a child may need.   
"The kids love him, and I feel like he’s very responsive and picks up on those kids that need his help," Mitchell said.  

Olaf even helps with post-care, helping children stay active and play while they give him commands.

Olaf’s soft ears, wet nose, wagging tail and long legs have helped ease parents' anxiety too.

Carly Snapp, whose children Emilia, 6, and Charles, 9, got vaccinated joined in on petting and meeting Olaf.

"Just that comfort is amazing, and just how calm Olaf moves on to the kiddos and makes them feel calm too so I really appreciate that it’s cool," Snapp said.

"Olaf is for everybody he’s supportive to the kids because he’s distracting them and I think the parents feel relief that there is some sort of comfort for their kids in the midst of a stressful time," Bishop said.

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Staff members say the best part of seeing Olaf work is when children walk away calmly after their shot. 
"He has definitely changed the atmosphere and made it a happier place when they’re coming here for something that they don’t like," Mitchell said. 

Olaf’s comfort is helping our community stay safe and get vaccinated one shot at a time.

"It's a great feeling to know that we are able to help this has been an incredibly stressful time for kids, for families for our community and society so to be able to be a part of something that is supportive and helpful in the midst of a really stressful time is really a special thing to be a part of," Bishop said.

If your child still needs to get their COVID vaccine Olaf will be helping at MultiCare’s pop-up clinic scheduled Thursday, March 17 from 4 to 7 p.m., Mt. Tahoma at 4634 S 74th St, Tacoma, WA 98409.

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