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Published on April 05, 2018

therapy dog George

Why Thursdays With George Are So Special

Volunteers are an important part of health care, and there’s one volunteer who has developed a tender and unique relationship with 10-year-old Teghan Ordal of Sioux Falls.

George is the volunteer’s name. He doesn’t talk much, but he sure has a fluffy coat. In fact, George is a standard poodle, and when he reaches Teghan’s room in Avera Children’s Hospital, he clambers onto the boy’s bed and lays his head on his lap.

Teghan’s beaming smile says it all.

“The relationship Teghan and George have is so obvious – they just really care about each other. George has evidently found ‘his boy’ when they are together,” said Leah Schroeder, Certified Child Life Specialist with Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “George’s visit is really meaningful, not just to Teghan, but to all the kids, staff and visitors. Everyone wants to pet him.”

Julie Ordal is Teghan’s mom, and she explained that Teghan receives monthly infusions because his body doesn’t produce enough antibodies. He’s been getting infusions for five years which help make him stronger in his fight against infections. George helps take his mind off things; Teghan really looks forward to their visits.

“They have been buddies since they met. We even changed Teghan’s appointments from Fridays to Thursdays so they can see each other,” Ordal said. “We’ve made a photo album of the visits. Teghan is purposely George’s last stop of the day, that ensures them time to just relax and spend more time together.”

Standard poodles are good-sized dogs, and when George joins Teghan on the bed, it’s a comical scene of finding enough room for both of them. Teghan laughs as George stretches out, and the canine seems a bit sleepy. His owner and handler, volunteer Johanna Simpson, said George loves spending time with everyone he meets.

“He tuckered himself out playing with the squirrels this morning, and knows Teghan will let him take over the bed,” Simpson said during a recent visit. “George takes full advantage, and often uses Teghan as his personal pillow.”

Simpson said there is something very special about Teghan, and these two have a unique and strong bond.

“For George, Teghan is his special reward at the end of a volunteer day,” she said. “They both are so happy, it’s hard to say who gets more joy out of their time together.”

Schroeder said there are clinical benefits to having pet therapy visit the children. Avera Children’s has been providing pet therapy for the past 10 years, and children who participant in pet therapy with dogs like George tend to light up with excitement. The visits can also provide a calming environment where patients’ heart rates decrease.

The visits are great distractions and they can benefit the whole family.

“Kids light up when George comes in,” Schroeder said. “It’s a nice way to comfort kids while they are here.”

Teghan is all smiles and he said he enjoyed bringing George presents for Christmas, including a ball and a Frisbee. Simpson brought some outfits for George to wear for Halloween, and she asked Teghan to help dress his special friend and to decide on the best outfit. The pup has been dressed up as a delivery man, and he’s also donned some dinosaur gear.

“I think the triceratops outfit was the best,” said the 10-year-old. “The first time we met it was awesome. He’s like my best friend, and I like it when he comes to see me.”

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