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Dog joins PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center’s caregiving team

Galice with Kim Lybecker, a physical therapist assistant and trained dog handler.
Galice with Kim Lybecker, a physical therapist assistant and trained dog handler. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center has taken on a new full-time staff member – and she has four legs.

Galice, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, now works at the hospital every day alongside Kim Lybecker, a physical therapist assistant and trained dog handler. Galice is the first dog to work there since the hospital’s previous dog handler retired.

Lybecker said after the original program fell through six years ago, she saw a “big part missing from the hospital.” A therapy dog on board can help normalize the experience of hospitalization, she said.

“The stress level just goes down, for the staff as well as for patients,” Lybecker said. “People are so much happier when they see her walking down the hall.”

Lybecker once treated a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. She normally could only walk about 20 feet at a time.

But when Lybecker asked her to walk the dog, the patient made it about 100 feet. And with Galice’s help, “people are just more willing to work with me,” Lybecker said.

Galice is especially skilled at helping patients with their balance and speech. Already, she knows 40 commands – Galice can open drawers, turn on the lights and place objects directly in a patient’s hands.

“She picks up commands really quickly and easily,” Lybecker said. “She’s very outgoing but well-mannered at the same time.”

“People go by on gurneys and say, ‘Oh, can you stop? I want to pet the dog,’ ” Lybecker added. “They want to get out of bed and work for the dog.”

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