Saint Francis Service Dogs: Ada and the Riverside Rehabilitation Hospital

It's Barks 'n' Red 2021 with with Saint Francis Service Dogs, today we learn about Ada and the Riverside Rehab Hospital. Please visit the Saint Francis website for more information and ways to donate!


Riverside Rehabilitation Hospital helps some 700 patients a year in their recovery from brain injury, stroke, orthopedic trauma, spinal cord injury, amputation, and many other conditions. We have a special relationship with Riverside. In 2011, our very first facility dog, Ekko, was placed there. From this partnership, not only did Ekko assist in the therapies of over 4,000 patients, but it opened the door for us at Saint Francis to see how a working dog could be incorporated into the life of a variety of facilities. We have since placed five more facility dogs, who have impacted the lives of thousands of individuals. When Ekko passed in 2018, we knew she was leaving behind some big paws to fill. We found the perfect match in Ada.


Ada was puppy raised in our Prison Puppy Program and trained by our field trainer, Jeanne. When asked to describe Ada in one word, Jeanne said: “Joyful - her tail wags all the time and she loves being around people. Her work is completed with exuberance, and she always smiles with her eyes.” If any quality is paramount for a facility dog, loving people would be it. Ada’s joyful nature and excitement for her work made it clear at her matching interview with Wendy and Sara from Riverside that she would be a great fit.


As the COVID-19 epidemic spread, precautions were put in place at Riverside, and the animal assisted therapy program was temporarily put on hold, as visitations were restricted between rooms to help limit points of contact between different patients and staff.


During this time, our partner program manager, Kathy worked remotely with Wendy, Sara, and Ada over Zoom and email to help continue Ada’s training and maintain her task work while “fur-loughed.” She made occasional visits to the office to the administrative area at Riverside to keep her familiar with her future workplace, and Wendy reported that she was always very excited to “get dressed” for work in her vest.


In the beginning of August 2020, Ada was finally able to be gradually re-introduced into the therapies for patients at Riverside, and she is now back full time! Ada works with patients playing tug, fetch, and retrieve games to work on upper body or one sided weakness; walking with patients to motivate them to move, while helping provide stability and balance; position work, where she will move around patients as they scan the room for her, which is helping those with visual impairments; and many other tasks and skills that directly help with therapy. One of the biggest things Ada provides for the patients is motivation, which has become even more important during the COVID pandemic. Riverside currently has a limited visitor policy, which has been hard on many patients. Sara and Wendy report that Ada has lifted the spirits of everyone at the hospital, patients and staff alike. Some patients will only respond and actively participate when Ada is incorporated into their therapy. This motivation is invaluable for these hard-to-reach patients.


Wendy says, “Ada is love, and hope, and joy personified.” Sara says. “We have state of the art technology and equipment at Riverside. Our patients will leave the equipment in the corner collecting dust to play and work with Ada. She heals their bodies, and their spirits.”