“He gets excited,” Smith said. “When he sees me put on this shirt he actually gives me a hug.”
The six-year-old English springer spaniel is the first St. John Ambulance therapy dog to visit an emergency room in Canada.
Their job is to decrease stress and make people more comfortable.
“We take out our signs that allows everybody to know that there is a dog present in the emergency room,” Smith said. “Then, we will always go to the children’s side and bring smiles there. Sometimes we get laughter right from the bottom of their bellies.”
The two will also visit the mental health assessment unit and, depending on the day, other parts of the ER.
Mondays are known in the emergency department as “Murphy Mondays.”
“The staff get all excited when the dog comes in,” Smith said. “There’s staff that have been known to change shifts so they can be present when a dog is here.”
Smith is a retired elementary school teacher. She moved to Saskatoon almost five years ago and said doing this is a way to give back to the community.
“The words are hard to find to describe the feeling,” Smith said. “I’ve had 91-year-olds sing to us, I’ve had somebody stop me on the street to say thank you again for the difference it made in the ER.”
Now Smith has written a children’s book to document Murphy’s work and it features photos of some of the staff at RUH.
“Since we’re the first in the country, it was really important to increase awareness of what we do, because I believe we make a significant contribution in supporting the care the health professionals give here,” she said.
With a grant from the RUH Foundation, the book was published in September – all proceeds going back to the RUH Foundation and to the Saskatchewan St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.
RUH emergency department manager Jason Trask said Murphy makes a positive impact.
“We can definitely see the light in their eyes when they see Murphy coming down the hallway,” Trask said.
“You see patients interacting with Murphy – very positive expressions on their face and you can tell they are making a definite difference in our department.”
Trask added that because of the nature of an emergency department, staff often deal with tragic circumstances. The interaction with therapy dogs helps them re-focus.
“Definitely a big, important piece of that stress response and keeping our staff mentally healthy,” he said.
There are more than 3,300 therapy dog teams in Canada and about 140 in the Saskatchewan, bringing comfort to thousands of people.
Following in Murphy’s paw prints, there are now four dogs making regular visits to the emergency room at RUH.
“Wouldn’t be the same without them,” Trask said. “Over the couple of years of the program they’ve become an integral team member.”
Smith says the visits are a high point of their week.
“When I watch other people light up because of my dog, it lights me up too, so I say I’m a volunteer, but I’m paid in something much better than money.”