By Sarah Sikandar
Signal Staff Writer
When tragedy struck Saugus High School in November 2019, Katie was there, to comfort those whose lives were scarred by the school shooting.
And, when the pandemic hit, she was there, to comfort frontline workers.
Through 400 encounters with individuals in need of comfort, Katie has been there. And now, she’s gotten her reward: Katie, the 8-year-old goldendoodle, has earned her Distinguished Therapy Dog title from American Kennel Club. A certified Pet Partners Therapy Dog at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, Katie has been at the job for more than five years.
She completed her 400 visits on Christmas Eve to earn the title.
It’s been a long ride for Katie: Born in Alabama on March 4, 2014, Katie started her training as early as eight weeks, giving her a good training foundation. She has been a comforting companion at assisted living facilities, convalescent hospitals, libraries and schools.
After the Saugus High School shooting in 2019, Katie stood next to the students, comforting them during the crisis. Through Pet Partners, Katie is also a member of the Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team. This means Katie can be deployed by FEMA as a comfort companion during natural disasters.
“Katie has a mild nature and loving to all sorts of people,” said Scott Garcia, Katie’s owner and handler. When COVID-19 lockdowns kept her from entering the facilities, she comforted frontline workers outdoors, to boost their spirits as they coped with the pandemic workload.
She recently met with Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, who awarded her with a special recognition award. “She’s a mellow, sweet dog who gets along with everyone,” Scott Garcia added.
April Garcia, manager of Volunteer Services at HMNH, said therapy animals are important “more so than ever in the past,” considering the expectations from staff and relief for patients. “Katie is a favorite here.” She passed her eligibility interview and course “with flying colors,” she added.
Even though pets are still not allowed within hospital rooms, their presence on site is a great source of relief for visitors, staff and patients equally. April Garcia added: “They provide comfort and a sense of relieve from anxiety and crop down the stress levels.”