By Terry Cancila
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Let me introduce you to Odin, the Cardinals Kids Cancer Center therapy dog at Mercy hospital in Creve Coeur. A 5-year-old black Labrador Retriever who moves from room to room, spending time and providing love to the sick children and their families as the kids undergo their treatments.
“The first day when I came here, I was nervous, and then I saw him, and I said, ‘A dog!’ I fell in love with Odie. He reminds me of my dogs at home. He is like my best friend,” said Anna, a 14-year-old ovarian cancer patient.
On this day, Anna and Odin celebrated as she was declared cancer-free and in remission. Anna gives Odin a long, heartfelt hug and thanks him for being there for every step of her journey.
According to Anna’s grandmother Carla Woods, Odin is the one to make the biggest difference for her as she went through all the difficult and painful treatments.
“He’s given her purpose to come here. She always looks forward to seeing Odin. It makes her treatments so much more bearable,” Woods said. “I’m not sure how well she would have gotten through this without him. We are thankful.”
As beneficial as Odin is for the kids, he is paramount for many parents by helping them cope with their child’s illness.
“It’s a trying time for her but also a trying time for the parents as well, and to have Odin there, it really helps us get through each visit,” said Katie Rowland, whose 2-year-old daughter Emma is a patient at the center. “Odin offers so much comfort not only to her but also to me.”
As a result of what Odin has given to the Rowland family, they plan to get a dog soon, and that dog will be a Labrador Retriever with some big shoes to fill.
Odin’s attributes don’t stop with all his good deeds. The canine of many talents is typically seen pinch-hitting for Santa Claus during the Christmas season or playing the role of a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day. Odin is also known to chase and retrieve a tennis ball or two and bring them back to an excited little boy or girl.
It was a lengthy process to get Odin. In 2018 the center applied for a therapy dog through DUO, an organization that trains facility and service dogs. It was a long process that included DUO visiting the center to figure out what kind of dog would be best suited for the center’s needs. Once approved, the process of choosing a dog took months but then in February 2019, DUO contacted the center to let them know they were receiving a 2-year-old black lab named Odin.
DUO put Odin through a four-month intensive training and then an additional 40 hours of training with his handler Laura Hanks before he was introduced to the center. Hanks, who is the center’s social worker and patient advocate, knew right away Odin was the perfect fit.
“He is trained to just lay there and accept all of the love that he is getting and there is a lot of hands on the face,” she said. “Let’s just say some of the kids are very exuberant about it and he just soaks it in. It’s very special.”
Like Yadi and Waino, their partnership exists to provide happiness, cheer, and a victory when you need one. It’s a relationship of mutual trust, a common goal, and affection.
“He makes it easy. When I’m ready to take him to a patient he hops up and comes along. A lot of my job is to provide support to the patients, and he helps me to comfort them. He lives with my family and I, and when we leave the house every single day, he knows he has a job to do. He’s just wonderful,” Hanks said. “I can’t imagine coming to work without him.”
It’s not all work for Odin. After he’s put in a day at the center, he may unwind by taking a walk, retrieving a ball with Hanks’ other dogs or perhaps taking a plunge into the lake.
If Odin could talk, like any hero, I think he would probably tell us he doesn’t want the accolades and that he’s just doing his job. The job he loves and was born to do.
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