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News | Sept. 8, 2023

Meet Nalu, Tripler’s Pediatric Specialty Therapy Dog

By Khinna Kaminske

Nalu, a two-year-old Labrador retriever, has worked with Tripler Army Medical Center’s Child and Family Behavioral Health Service and Pediatric Specialty clinic since March 2023. Before Nalu was matched with TAMC, he trained as a hospital facility dog with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii. The dogs there are professionally trained to provide children and adults with disabilities independence and enhance their quality of life.

Dr. Kathryn Egan, TAMC child psychiatrist and Nalu’s primary care handler provides behavioral support for children with serious medical illnesses.

“Nalu was matched with the pediatric clinic because he loves kids and is easy-going. His favorite thing to do is snuggle. Nalu gets to come to work with me every day. He provides support for kids, families, and for child behavioral health. He extends his work with two licensed clinical social workers, Trina Jones Artis and Nicole Dorsey.”

When asked about Nalu’s training, Egan explained, “Nalu must learn impulse control. He understands almost 100 commands and can visit by resting his head on a family’s members lap. He can hop up, snuggle, and sit. He can walk comfortably in a busy setting and stays close to me. He doesn’t respond to other leashed dogs. He had to learn to be comfortable in a medical setting with equipment.”

While training at Kapiolani Hospital years ago, Egan worked with the hospital facility dog, Tucker, and enjoyed the experience. She made it her goal to integrate a dog program into TAMC’s Pediatric Clinic programs.

“It was quite a process to develop our policy. We worked with quality, safety, and infection control to ensure a safe policy. We based our program on Walter Reed’s. We built a policy. Our program is specific to Child and Family Behavioral Health Service and Pediatric Specialties,” added Egan.

Nalu is a therapy dog, sometimes called a comfort dog. He supports a person’s mental health by providing comfort and attention. A dog’s sweet demeanor and unconditional love have therapeutic benefits for those who are facing complex health challenges.

“Nalu’s presence decreases the stress in a situation. He helps increase communication, allowing for quicker rapport and alliance-building. That is key to our work in child behavioral health. Nalu can be an icebreaker. The kids interact with him as they talk. He increases comfort and facilitates that communication,” described Egan.

Egan laughed when asked if she hopes to see more dogs at Tripler, “There is enthusiasm about that. It’s outside of what I can put together, but there is a lot of interest. I would love to see a hospital facility dog also support our adult medical units.”

Photo by Hugh Fleming. Picture (Left to Right): Trina Jones Artis, MSW, MPH, LCSW; Kathryn Egan, MD; Nicole Dorsey, LCSW; and Cara Rallita, RN

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