Caring canine: Therapy dog makes rounds at Mankato hospital

Nov. 5—Luke Goellner wasn't expecting a visitor at his appointment in Mayo Clinic Health Center's infusion center Friday, let alone one with four legs.

But the 11-year-old boy was all smiles when new therapy dog Maisy snuggled up to say hello.

Looking on, Luke's mother, Rondi, described how meaningful it was to see her son's joy at meeting Maisy.

"I wanted to cry because I feel like there's such a connection with not just people but patients," she said. "Animals in particular can help them through the anxiety of the situation."

Handler and owner Dr. Meghan Murphy, a neurosurgeon at Mayo in Mankato, said Maisy is an example of how comforting animals can be for patients.

"Animals are very intuitive," she said. "They know who's hurting, who's suffering, who needs them."

Maisy, 4, strolls around with a staff badge as part of the volunteer services team. She went through the infusion center, hospital and clinic, approaching whoever gave the OK.

Murphy specifically wanted a dog that would be good with her own children. Maisy, coming from a therapy dog trainer, fit the bill and more.

The retriever quickly showed she had the right demeanor for therapy work. She's obedient, gentle and careful not to overwhelm patients.

Maisy first started visiting the clinic with Murphy during the COVID-19 pandemic, part of an employee Joy Canine program. The pooch's presence helped staff and patients alike, Murphy said.

"Not only is it patient care, but taking care of the people who are taking care of the patients," she said.

Once a formal therapy dog program started up again, Maisy went on to receive her official certification.

Friday was a fairly typical day on the job for Maisy. She proved popular walking at Murphy's side, receiving scratches behind her ears from staff, volunteers and patients before earning a pup cup from the coffee shop.

"She loves her job," Murphy said. "I bring her to work and she sleeps in my office, then we go around and she gets loved on by everyone."

Murphy performed back surgery on Al Anderson a couple of days earlier. When Murphy came in to check on his recovery afterward, Maisy joined her.

"She's such a sweetheart," Anderson said of Maisy. "She's a good girl."

The Goellners, who were at the infusion center for Crohn's disease treatment for Luke, are a dog family. They have a small dog at home and had a medium-size dog, Lucky, who died last year.

Luke had just dreamed about Lucky the night before Maisy's visit. In the dream, Lucky came up beside him before walking down the hall in his house.

Hours later, it was Maisy walking up to keep him company. Maisy's mellowness reminded the Goellners of Lucky.

When asked what his reaction was to seeing the golden retriever come in, he said: "Happiness, because I love dogs."

He loves cats, and most animals for that matter, as well. Someday he hopes to be a paleontologist.

"It's crazy because you expect to see dogs walking down the street, but not in the clinic," he said with a laugh.

The Goellners made a plan with Murphy for Maisy to come visit them next time Luke comes in for an infusion.

"That made my day and his day for sure," Rondi said.

Seeing the positive impact Maisy has on patients, Murphy hopes more people who have dogs well suited to therapy work seek out the certification.

"It just brings joy, and we can all use more of that," she said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola