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ReelChatter of the Month

Hello! My name is Katie Caskey. I am a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Cnter. O-H! I’ve been married to my husband, Seth for two wonderful years and we have three dogs, Zeke, Moose and Izzy.

I’ve always been pretty active and have a passion for running. With three dogs, it’s easy for the miles to add up. My husband and I also enjoy traveling, especially to National Parks or areas we can hike and enjoy the outdoors or a local brewery. Being from Cleveland, I am an avid Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan. And yes, my dog, Zeke is named after Ezekiel Elliott, well-known former running back from THE Ohio State University!

I adopted Zeke in 2016 from The Rescue Inn, a dog rescue in North Olmsted, Ohio. At the time, I was living and working in central Pennsylvania, away from family, my hometown and my “comfort zone.” For that first year, Zeke provided a level of companionship that helped me through difficult times as I navigated the ups and downs of life. Despite his puppy personality, he displayed a calming demeanor, and his presence alone provided a level of comfort. There were times when I would come home at the end of a challenging day and it was almost as if he could sense my mood. He would do simple things like lean against my legs to let me pet him or sit on the couch next to me while watching television. It was as if he was saying “you’re not alone.” 

Over the years, people would say “Zeke would make a great therapy dog,” but the right opportunity never presented itself and the timing never worked out. Fast forward to October 2022, Zeke and I had moved back to Ohio and I was working at an outpatient medical facility for Ohio State in Columbus. Our clinic staff would occasionally get visits from a therapy dog named Radar, involved with a program called Buckeye Paws. It was always a BIG deal when Radar came to visit. Many of our staff consider themselves to be “dog people” and it would immediately become a bright spot in the day when we would get to spend time with him.

Buckeye Paws is an “innovative animal-assisted therapy program…targeted specifically to help improve staff, faculty and student resilience” by providing comfort and emotional support. The initial program was launched on March 6, 2020 at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center with the “mission of supporting the mental and emotional health of staff.” The program then expanded on March 7, 2022 to provide assistance to students, faculty and staff of The Ohio State University. Since 2020, Buckeye Paws has grown from 4 dogs to 37 dogs. All handers are employed by the university or Medical Center.

We had been on the wait list for about 10 months when that October I received an email from the program manager that there was an opening on the Medical Center team! Zeke had finished basic obedience training but there are other specific tests/certifications that are required to become a certified therapy dog.

He first had to pass a temperament test, looking at how he reacts around people, in different settings and around different noises for example. Next, he had to pass both basic and advanced obedience training. This training involved following commands, leash walking and avoiding distractions (training that would then be reviewed quarterly with all the dogs accepted into the program in order to remain current on skills). Then, to be able to be a certified therapy dog, he had to pass two certification tests demonstrating the skills he learned in training. The last step after passing these tests was to complete 3 “shadow” visits with current Buckeye Paws dog/handler teams to make sure he was comfortable around people and in different environments within both a university and hospital setting. Once those visits were completed, he was officially accepted into the Buckeye Paws program!

It will be one year in May since Zeke joined Buckeye Paws and he’s completed countless visits to both the Wexner Medical Center and the University to provide comfort and support to the staff, faculty, students and community of Ohio State. To name a few, these visits have included the opening of new facilities within the Medical Center, supporting Staff Appreciation week, supporting Nurse and Hospital week, attending club meetings on campus, attending a campus event on World Mental Health Day promoting well-being and mental health, attending de-stress events for students during finals week and visiting students during classes. The program as a whole can also visit staff on certain hospital floors or departments, upon request, especially in the event of a traumatic event or circumstance. For me, because I work in a clinic setting, I can also bring Zeke to work to visit with my coworkers and the different departments of our building on a weekly basis. Staff from other departments will now walk to our office just to see if he is there, know him by name and even follow him on social media (yes, Zeke is on instagram @adventures_of_zekeboy)! It’s easy to see the impact that Zeke and the other dogs have from the moment they enter the room. You can feel a palpable change in the mood as evidenced by the instant smiles and calls of “Hi Zeke!” while reaching to provide an ear scratch or a friendly pet on the back. I have heard countless accounts of individuals connecting with Zeke and the other therapy dogs because maybe they are away at college and haven’t seen their family dog in weeks or months, or maybe they recently lost their dog and just being able to give Zeke a hug provides a sense of comfort. Since 2020, the medical field as a whole has endured the mental, physical and emotional strain that came with the pandemic, much of which prompted the initiation of Buckeye Paws. Many of those strains and others are still present today in the healthcare profession and I truly believe that the development of a program like Buckeye Paws can be a powerful tool to counteract those strains and promote resilience, emotional support and well-being. We will leave a visit and someone will say “I needed this,” or “This made my day” and you can just tell that Zeke’s presence allowed them the space and time to decompress or feel a sense of comfort, even if just for a short moment. Through this process, Zeke and I continue to learn from each other and he continues to provide that same level of companionship that I felt, what seems like a lifetime ago, when it was just me and him in Pennsylvania. 

 

In a world full of stress and negativity, seeing and experiencing the positive impact and joy that Zeke and the other dogs bring to everyone they meet is wonderful to witness and I feel grateful to be a part of it!

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