As Kyi walked into the treatment room at Adventure Dental in Salmon Creek, he was greeted with familiar smiles from the dental office staff.
Cathy Tramaglini reached down and lifted Kyi into the dental chair. He took a couple of soft steps before lying down on the lap of 10-year-old Baylee Polzen. Kyi, a 6-year-old Tibetan spaniel, slowly crawled up the girl’s chest toward her chin.
“He senses her nervousness,” Tramaglini explained.
As the dental hygienist drilled into Baylee’s tooth, preparing it for a filling, Kyi nuzzled into the crook of Baylee’s arm. The girl gently stroked Kyi’s head and back as dental tools moved in and out of her mouth.
Kyi laid still as the hygienist walked out of the room and Dr. David Neil took his seat beside the girl. After a few more minutes, Baylee’s dental work was complete. As was Kyi’s work.
Kyi is a therapy dog with four years on the job. He started making occasional visits to Adventure Dental last year. Now, Kyi makes regular monthly visits to the pediatric dental office.
“We’re trying to help patients with some anxiety,” said Susan Clayton, who works at the dental office. “When they pet the dog, they start to relax.”
Therapy dogs go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes to comfort and improve the lives of other people, according to the American Kennel Club.
Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability, according to the American Kennel Club.
Kyi and Tramaglini became a therapy dog team in 2010 through Columbia River Pet Partners, the local branch of the national nonprofit organization. Tramaglini went through handler training, Kyi received obedience training, and the pair had to pass a test together.
In addition to Kyi’s certification through Pet Partners, he has earned the title of American Kennel Club Therapy Dog. He earned that title after receiving his certification and completing at least 50 therapy visits. To date, Kyi has made more than 200 visits, Tramaglini said.
In addition to his visits at Adventure Dental, Kyi spends every Tuesday at Dr. Pike Dentistry for Children in Portland.
Neil had heard of dental offices in other parts of the country using therapy dogs to ease the fears of patients, but he had never had a dog sitting on a patient’s lap while in the dental chair.
“We’re excited to try something new if it helps the children,” Neil said.
The Adventure Dental staff was first approached about bringing in a therapy dog by Tramaglini’s daughter, who takes her daughter there for dental care. Tramaglini visited the dental office to educate the staff about therapy dogs and Kyi.
Patients seemed to enjoy having Kyi there, whether sitting with nervous kids or just visiting with those in the waiting room, so Tramaglini and Kyi agreed to make more regular visits.
Neil’s one concern about bringing a therapy dog into the office was that Kyi would react to the noise of high-speed drills and make the patient more anxious. Kyi, however, isn’t fazed by the sounds of the instruments.
“I’ve never seen him jerk, jump — never, not once,” Neil said.
Instead, Neil has seen Kyi soothe patients who would otherwise need to be treated at a hospital under general anesthesia.
“Having Kyi on them, it just relaxes them,” Neil said. “He just mellows our anxious children out.”
Kyi himself has always had a mellow personality, even as a puppy, Tramaglini said. That, she said, is what makes him such a great therapy animal.
“He’s an awesome therapy dog,” she said. “He’s very laid back and loves kids.”