By Seth Daniel
There are dogs that are great pets, and then there are dogs that go above and beyond.
‘Sarge’ at Boston Medical Center (BMC) in the South End is one of those dogs who knows how to make things better for the patients of Dr. Georgia Montouris, who treats patients with brain injuries at the hospital and brings ‘Sarge’ along to help those patients.
Sarge, who was trained by Canine Assistants to help those with epilepsy, has risen above the pack this month after having been chosen by Milk Bone as one of 15 dogs nationwide in the annual ‘Dogs Who Change the World’ contest.
Between comfort visits to patients, belly rubs from staff and tasty dog treats from doctors, Montouris said Sarge loves his job at BMC.
“I think it is wonderful for the hospital,” said Montouris. “Patients really love Boston Medical for doing this. Therapy dogs have experience. Obviously you have dogs like Sarge and seeing eye dogs. Now they have dogs that help severe anxiety. They’re training dogs now for people who have trouble with balance, such as Parkinson’s Disease. They have dogs trained to detect if blood sugar for diabetics is high or low. It’s a very interesting and helpful way of using dogs, which is phenomenal. Dogs love the attention and patients get something positive out of it…Between the physical attention and the treats he gets, this dog is in Nirvana.”
Sarge’s resourcefulness is no accident. He’s a “top-dog” graduate of the Canine Assistants school, which trains high-functioning service dogs to be the super-pups of the canine world. Thanks to support from Milk-Bone, Canine Assistants has placed more than 2,000 hero dogs with individuals across the U.S.
Montouris said Sarge, who will turn 6 in May, was first paired with a man who had severe epilepsy. Sarge was able to help the man and was specially trained to help if he had a seizure. It took 18 months to train Sarge, and he specialized in getting help if there was an emergency.
However, the man soon got to the point that he couldn’t use Sarge anymore, and they reached out to Dr. Montouris.
“They didn’t want to retire Sarge, so they wanted to see if he could get into something like hospital work,” she said of the Retriever/Lab mix. “They called it a ‘career’ change.”
That was in April 2016, and it opened up another great part of the story, that of BMC’s Healing Pups program.
Shortly after the Marathon Bombing in 2013, the hospital started the Healing Pups program to help patients and staff who were suffering from the trauma of the incident. It was very successful and the program continues today. It’s within that program that super-Sarge exists within the hospital.
“I found out Boston Medical has a program called ‘Healing Pups,’ and there are 13 dogs now,” said Montouris. “Sarge was number 11. With him being a specialist in epilepsy, he was the quickly very useful and interacted with my patients on the floor…As long as the patient is ok with the dog, he’ll come into the room with the patient and interact with them. He makes his rounds. The patients when they see me, the very first thing they say to me, is ‘Where is that dog?’”
Montouris said Sarge has calmed autistic patients who were having a hard time, he has helped those with brain injuries in their recovery and even calmed one patient enough to let allow them to speak again.
“Being a dog lover, I have dogs,” said Montouris. “You don’t think about how a dog affects other people. You think about who it affects you. I’ve seen people who were in distress and he’ll get on the bed with them and you see them soften. They’ll just melt. You just see what an animal can do for people. They have some innate sense that we don’t have.”