When Bernie Schwartz and his best friend, Maddie, walk through Akron Children’s Hospital, it’s hard for them to get far before being stopped. “Awww, can I pet her?” visitors say right before they’re greeted with a wagging tale and sloppy kisses.
As the longest serving handler and an original member of Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade, Bernie has been bringing joy and comfort to sick kids for 20 years.
“I just love seeing the kids and their reaction to the dog,” Bernie said. “It’s a super program.”
Bernie has had three dogs, all Labrador Retrievers, participate in the Doggie Brigade. Maggie was first, Ben was second, and Maddie is his current dog.
Bernie and Maddie visit the hospital twice a week. Since Maddie joined the program in 2010, she has visited patients more than 170 times.
Bernie adopted the black lab from the Lake Erie Lab Rescue when she was 3 years old. In addition to visiting Akron Children’s, Maddie attends the “Read to a Dog” program at the Cuyahoga Falls Library.
“Bernie has truly been an ambassador for our program,” said Cynthia Duncan, supervisor of Akron Children’s Reinberger Family Center and adviser to the program. “The Doggie Brigade is so important to patients, families and staff. It is a great stress reliever and always brings a smile to the faces of the people they encounter.”
Today, there are about 90 canines in the Doggie Brigade. The dogs must go through a screening process and follow the requirements of the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing human health and well-being through positive interactions with animals.
“The volunteers participate in the program because they love their dogs and want to share that love with everyone they meet,” Duncan said. “They have big hearts and want to make a child’s day a little brighter by sharing their dog.”
Have you been touched by Bernie and Maddie or one of our other Doggie Brigaders? We’d love to hear your story, or you can comment on this post.