Comfort dog alleviates fear at Northbrook dental practice
Comfort dog alleviates kids' fears at the dentist office
Jo Jo, a 6-year old golden retriever, was among the first responders to comfort students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but for the last year she has helped children closer to home: at a Northbrook pediatric dentistry office.
One morning a month, Jo Jo dons her comfort vest and sits on the laps of frightened children while they are in the dental chair. Of all the golden retrievers involved in comfort ministry through Northbrook-based Lutheran Church Charities, she is the only one working at a dental practice.
Her handler, Lynne Ryan of Arlington Heights, came up with the idea. When she's not taking Jo Jo on visits, she works as a dental assistant for Dr. Paul Egger and Dr. Thomas Resnick at Pediatric Dentistry of Northbrook office.
"I've been working as a handler for five years, and I thought Jo Jo could really do some good here," Ryan says.
Count Mary Quartararo of Park Ridge as a believer. Her daughter, Sophia, has a sensory disorder and she was hysterical at the first three dentist offices they tried. But after having Jo Jo go through it with her, she relaxed and even wanted to go back.
"She had so much anxiety and was so terrified that one office suggested she would have to go under general anesthesia to have her cleaning done," Quartararo says. "That was the last thing I wanted to do."
Once Quartararo found out about a comfort dog coming to the aid of pediatric dental patients, she looked into it. She and Sophia scheduled an appointment to meet with Jo Jo first and came back for the cleaning and treatment of a subsequent cavity.
"My daughter loves animals, and especially dogs," Quartararo says. "She found Jo Jo to be so patient and loving and caring. (Jo Jo) stayed quietly on her lap the whole time, and when Sophia heard a drill or a noise, she'd reach for the dog."
Ryan says Jo Jo has comforted many different children with all levels of anxiety. She is especially good with children coming in for teeth extraction and cavities, she adds.
Her patient load includes children with special needs as well as on the autism spectrum -- and their parents, who often come into the exam room with their children.
"Jo Jo had to be trained to get used to all the different noises in a dental office, like the sound of the drill and the suction," Ryan says. "But now, she gets up on the chair and reclines on children's laps."
In Sophia's case, Jo Jo, at 70 pounds, weighed more than the patient, but her mother claims, she was perfectly comfortable.
"The dog has such a calming effect," Quartararo says. "What a gift she is. I think it's the best thing that ever happened to dental hygiene."
Officials wwith the Comfort Ministry are finding their dogs can offer peace and serenity to everyone from travelers at bustling O'Hare International Airport during peak holiday travel times and students during exam times to returning veterans and those with traumatic brain injury.
"The comfort dogs and Kare-9 military dogs are often used in situations where someone is under great stress, to help them get through what they are facing," says Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities. "God works in mighty ways -- through his gift of dogs."