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Photo shows a large Newfoundland breed dog with a black head and white body.
Hank, a “gentle giant” Newfoundland dog, is the newest addition to the HHS team to support staff. Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving mood and increasing feelings of social support.
March 20, 2024

Meet Hank, Hamilton Health Sciences’ fluffiest employee

Pet therapy has been shown to support positive physical and mental health across hospitals for both patients and staff. That’s why the Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) Volunteer Resources (VR) team wanted to recruit a furry “employee” to support staff across our hospitals. Meet Hank, a 105-pound gentle giant of a Newfoundland dog. Hank will start officially making his rounds this spring.

The K9 Assist program is dedicated to supporting the well-being of staff in various settings through animal-assisted therapy to reduce stress and burnout, increase socialization and improve overall well-being.

Morgan Richardson, manager of volunteer resources, picked out Hank when he was a puppy.

The volunteer resources team will pilot the new K9 Assist program at two HHS sites: Hamilton General Hospital (HGH) and Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC).

“For now, while we are currently planning to pilot at HGH and JHCC, our focus will be on their success,” says Morgan Richardson, manager of volunteer resources. “This will enable us to gradually expand the positive impact of K9 Assist across all sites as we can.”

Call the dog-tor

Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving mood and increasing feelings of social support. When developing K9 Assist, the VR team collaborated with several organizations to gain a full understanding of the processes and benefits that come with implementing such a program.

“Some therapists have four paws.”

Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to have many benefits for mental health.

“At HHS, we are constantly striving to enhance the well-being and resilience of our staff,” says Richardson. “K9 Assist aligns with our commitment to fostering a supportive work environment, strengthening staff morale, and ensuring that our staff are better equipped to provide exceptional care to our patients.”

Hank enjoys chasing sticks, nap breaks, and most of all, being around people. His breed, the Newfoundland, is known for their calm, sweet and friendly disposition and natural affinity for therapy work, making the breed an ideal choice for providing comfort and support in a hospital environment.

“Some therapists have four paws,” says Leanne Parsons, volunteer resources coordinator. “I think he’s just a calming effect as soon as you see him. This will make such a difference across our sites for all our staff.”

Completing basic training

Hank has been in training for the past year, visiting HHS to ensure he is familiar with his new settings and colleagues. He officially starts with the K9 Assist program in April.

“As we approach April, our excitement grows as we prepare to welcome Hank in a more robust capacity,” says Richardson. “Hank has already become a beloved figure at staff meetings, councils, debriefs, and other gatherings, bringing an undeniable sense of joy and unity. His ability to instantly connect with staff and provide comfort in challenging moments is truly special and heartwarming to witness.”

Hank’s official employee badge.

This gigantic fluff ball even has his own badge to show he means business – and it’s the cutest thing we’ve ever seen.

“Hank’s presence has been a catalyst for remarkable improvements in staff morale and well-being,” says Richardson. “A recent survey indicates that a staggering 87% of respondents have had an excellent experience interacting with Hank, echoing the known benefits of pet therapy in health care. Staff members have also reported noticeable reductions in stress levels and a boost in morale, aligning with the substantial research supporting the efficacy of animal-assisted interventions in health-care environments.”

Hank showing off his “downward dog” pose at one of the staff yoga events at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre.

Hank’s visits are tailored to the specific needs of the moment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they are structured dynamically to provide the maximum benefit to those he interacts with. Whether he’s participating in staff huddles, rounding on units, attending staff meetings, or providing support during debriefs, Hank’s role is as varied as the needs of the people he serves.

Richardson adds, “We at HHS are proud to lead the way in innovative and compassionate health care practices. The introduction of Hank as a facility dog is a testament to our commitment to the well-being of our dedicated staff. Hank’s presence is a vivid reminder of the healing power of companionship and the positive impact animals can have in health-care settings.”

We’re excited to welcome Hank to our organization and look forward to having all our staff meet him.

Staff can get in touch with the K9 Assist team to book a visit with Hank on the HHS Hub.

A round of a-paws for new HHS employee, Hank.

Staff members share their experiences with Hank and his impact so far on our teams.

Jana Bergin, Clinical Manager, Internal Medicine, Hamilton General Hospital

Jana often shares photos of Hank with her five-year-old daughter. During a recent shopping trip, they saw dog toys and her daughter suggested they should get one for Hank. Pictured here is Hank with his donated toy by Jana and her daughter.

When COVID hit, and throughout COVID, our teams rallied. They stuck together to care for our patients and gave all they could, but it took its toll on them. They needed something to bring back their smiles.

When Hank visits the units, you can instantly see the joy that he brings. Our units are hectic on most days, and Hank’s presence brings a sense of calmness and happiness. It’s amazing how a little Hank snuggle can change the day. I love seeing Hank with the staff at our Hamilton General Hospital. I love hearing them laugh, and the excitement that surrounds him. Hank is such a well-behaved pup, who has made such an impact on our staff.

We are excited to see Hank in his full working capacity once he is supporting staff in both celebrations and visits, but also navigating difficult situations that arise on the unit.

Matthew Kettings, Social Worker, Palliative Care, St. Peter’s Hospital

Hank meets Matthew, alongside Morgan.

We’ve had the pleasure of having Morgan and Hank visit our unit twice this year with great appreciation from our staff. Hank brings smiles to our staff and invokes positive, lighthearted and joyful conversations among us all.

Being able to interact, pet, and engage with Hank’s fluffy, easy-going and gentle-natured self has been a bright spot in our busy and emotionally charged days in a palliative care program.

Karen Cook, Registered Nurse, Internal Medicine, Hamilton General Hospital

Hank enjoys a friendly belly rub from Karen.

When Hank comes to the unit I notice joy in people’s eyes. When I pet Hank I feel more relaxed. For me, getting down to his level and getting really close to him helps the most with uplifting my spirits and the mood on the unit feels improved. Some staff may not come close or pet him, but I still notice them smiling.

Morgan Richardson, Manager, Volunteer Resources

Morgan and Rob MacIsaac, outgoing President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences, with Hank after a LeaderShift event.

HHS is delighted to announce the successful introduction of Hank, our first facility dog, dedicated to supporting the resilience and well-being of our staff. Hank has been warmly welcomed across various departments and sites, significantly contributing to a positive and therapeutic environment within our health care setting.

Wendy Gibbs, Business Clerk, Internal Medicine, Hamilton General Hospital

Wendy and Hank share a snuggle.

Hank provides our team with much-needed stress relief, and unlimited laughter and smiles when he joins us on the unit. While watching you learn and explore your new working world, some days we can still see your silly puppy side underneath your professional working persona. You provide our team with a chance to pause for a few moments, despite our busy working day.

You bring our team together whenever you visit. We could not be more grateful for the time we get to spend with you. Your gentle giant nature has been winning over staff that have never had the opportunity to interact with a dog, even warming the hearts of those who may be fearful of animals.

Thank you for unknowingly doing this for us, and you have our vote for employee of the year.

Stephanie Menevissis, Registered Nurse, Child and Youth Mental Health, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Welcome to HHS, Hank!

I work as a frontline registered nurse at McMaster Children’s Hospital. Recently, our unit had some very challenging cases that were starting to have staff experiencing moral distress and caregiver burnout. A group debrief was held and supported by the resiliency team, and Hank made a special appearance. His calm demeanour was a grounding presence for staff members.

While talking about challenging subjects, it was extremely comforting and reassuring to have Hank there for support. Hank was both well-behaved and friendly, and is always welcomed back at our meetings.