One Friday this summer, I was giving a presentation with Hathaway to the student researchers at the University of Colorado — specifically, for those working at the Gary Pavilion, in the psychiatric unit. This is a completely separate building from the main Children’s Hospital, but the same parking lot. I was annoyed at myself, because we were almost a half hour early. However, as we walked to the building, I noticed a car with three adults standing around it and a kid in the car who wouldn’t get out — and he was too big and too old to manhandle out. I asked the adult with a Children’s Hospital ID if we could help. “Maybe,” she said. “Can we use you as the reward to get out of the car?”
The boy eventually made it out of the car, flailing, crying, tying his hoodie so tight around his face there was no room to see. He wouldn’t let go of the car, but I talked to him for a while. It was blazingly hot that day, so hot that I had to explain that I could not keep a black dog in the full sun any longer, but that we would be waiting for him inside. Ten minutes later, he made it in.
I asked Hathaway to lie down near him. “When you are ready,” I said, “you can come over and pet her.” It took him about 30 seconds. About a minute later the hoodie was opened, and he was visibly calming. While he petted, I talked about Hathaway’s work a few years ago on the autism study in that building and the effects dogs have on patients, helping their stress chemicals to decrease, calming the heart rates and blood pressure. Hathaway and I then accompanied the boy, his parents and his therapist to his floor before going to my presentation. All of that was pretty standard therapy work, the type that any of us who have therapy dogs do all the time.
The story took a turn three days later. The following Monday, my husband Guy and Hathaway were at the main Children’s Hospital, doing Animal Assisted Therapy in the sixth floor, windowless therapy gym. Hathaway suddenly jumped up, looked at the door, and looked at Guy. “Do you want to go out?” he asked. She looked at the door, and looked at him. “Ok.” She led the way out of the hospital and towards the parking garage and pottying area. But instead of turning right to the potty area, she turned left. And there, Guy found three adults who were trying to get a boy from the parking lot into the Gary Pavilion.
It was the same boy.
Over the next half hour, Hathaway got the boy calmed down, moved to inside the building, into his appointment room and immersed in a game of fetch. And then Guy and Hathaway left.
As Guy says, he keeps asking Hathaway how she knew. Given a separate building, a windowless room, and a hospital system that stifles noise and odors, it wasn’t sight, or sound, or smell.
So how did she know? That’s the problem. She isn’t telling.