BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Dressed in his most stylish Santa suit, therapy dog Dexter looked sharp on Dec. 21 for his first day on the job at Hospice of the Golden Isles.
Dexter, a puggle - a mix of a pug and a beagle - with big eyes, short legs and a figure described as "pleasantly plump," will be taking up employment as the resident therapy dog at Hospice of the Golden Isles, where his one job is to offer love and joy to the patients there.
Dexter will be sharing office space with his owner, Patty Crosby, the vice president of development at Hospice of the Golden Isles.
Crosby recently put Dexter through therapy dog training, a decision she made after seeing what a natural he was with the hospice patients.
"When we had to evacuate during the hurricane, we sheltered here. We stayed, and I brought Dexter with me, and everyone just loved having him here at the hospice," Crosby said. "He was wonderful with everybody and the patients, and such a comfort. So I went ahead and went through the training, and he passed."
Therapy dog training is a fairly rigorous process that includes hours of testing, to make sure the dogs have a steady temperament and can remain calm in most crowds and settings, Crosby said.
"They make sure that your dog can be comfortable in situations with loud children or in a hospital setting where there's a lot of noise," she said. "They have to want to be pet, to want to be loved and to give love."
During Dexter's first morning in his new position, he had the chance to show off his red suit and brighten the day of several patients.
"We took him back to visit with the patients, and one lady just started crying," Crosby said. "He likes to sleep on your chest and nuzzle with you, and it just made her cry. She was so happy to have a little animal with her."
Hospice at the Golden Isles frequently brings in therapy dogs to comfort patients, Crosby said, but Dexter will be a more regular fixture.
And this isn't 8-year-old Dexter's first time in a public service gig.
"I got him from the Humane Society in Jacksonville, and so when I got him we used him when I was in TV as a poster dog for adoption, to encourage other people to adopt dogs," said Crosby, who previously worked as an anchor for First Coast News.
Dexter's laid-back nature and sweet disposition makes him an ideal therapy dog.
Monica Rich, the bereavement coordinator at Hospice of the Golden Isles, said therapy dogs are able to connect with the patients in ways that nurses cannot.
"Dogs seem to have a sense of who needs them, and the patients are aware of that dog's sense," Rich said. "There's a compassion that the dog seems to show that's different than what a human will show, and it makes a spiritual and emotional connection unlike a human connection."
In hospice patient Annie Howard's room, Dexter made himself comfortable in Howard's lap while she petted him.
Rich said Howard transformed each time Dexter entered the room.
"She hasn't smiled or really talked to people or anything, and when he comes in she totally changes," Rich said. "She'll talk and she'll answer questions when she's holding him, when she normally wouldn't."
Crosby said therapy dogs like Dexter bring a special kind of joy to the patients and families at Hospice.
"The patients light up," she said. "Everybody loves to have a friendly face and have that comfort that an animal brings. That's priceless."