In Mercy’s recent television advertising campaign, viewers get a quick glimpse of one of Mercy Hospital’s wonderful therapy dogs, Mercy, and his handler, John Kinmouth. That’s right, long before he began volunteering, the pup’s name was Mercy. John kindly answers a few questions for us about this gentle giant.
What breed is Mercy? Sheepadoodle, which is a standard poodle mother and an Old English sheepdog father.
How old is Mercy and how long have you been together? He just turned 8 years old on Feb. 28. We’ve been together since he was a 16-pound, 8-week-old puppy.
When/how did he become a therapy dog? At 6 months, he began his training journey to be a hospital therapy dog. He completed his training over 18 months in 38 full-day training sessions.
That’s a major commitment of time. What were the skills he learned? He learned to always have four paws on the ground, so he does not know how to shake because he could scratch a patient. He also was taught to not lick any face, which is important because young and old patients frequently want to get a kiss from him.
He was taught to refuse all food offered to him and not ever beg for food ... and there is always lots of food around hospital settings. He was taught to sit or down stay while I am talking with others while showing no interest in any distractions such as medical equipment or medical activity. He was also taught both elevator and escalator protocols for his safety and others’.
Training also included a whole curriculum of obstacles and balance beams to instill confidence in tough situations. Additionally, Mercy was exposed to all sorts of stimulation from wheelchairs, rolling beds and various types of improper treatment by a patient (poking with crutches and canes, screaming and other erratic behaviors) that could frighten other service animals. He was taught both verbal and hand commands, which we practice daily.
Give those of us with unruly mutts some hope. Did he have any bad habits as a puppy? He really was a perfect puppy with a sense of others and his surroundings. The only behavior that was the catalyst for us to seek out a professional trainer (while living in Florida) was that at 6 months old he would jump up with his front paws and put them on my wife, Josie’s, shoulders. It was playful, of course, but not a good trait around our grandchildren or our aging parents.
It was that trainer that identified Mercy’s incredible intelligence, desire to learn and other vital characteristics that the highest-level hospital therapy animal requires. Over six years, he’s had hundreds of visits to hospitals, assisted living centers, classrooms and other places where a therapy dog is needed.
We heard he also is a diabetic alert dog. Tell us more about that. I was personally diagnosed with Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes about 4 ½ years ago. Mercy immediately took to monitoring my occasional insulin spills from my pump at night. He will come to my bedside and nudge me awake when my pump connection has failed. My endocrinologist writes me a new prescription every 12 months officially certifying his job as my diabetic alert animal. Mercy’s hospital therapy training provides him with all required high-behavior standards for his dual roles.
How long have you been volunteering at Mercy? We moved to Rogers in October 2018. We are not officially part of the team until we complete requirements of the Pet Partners organization, which acts as the overseer of the Mercy Therapy Dog program. We have been doing visits on a by-request basis by patient families. I expect Mercy to be Mercy Hospital pet certified by the end of April.
What do you do during visits to the hospital? Mercy changes a room or a hallway just by being present. His distinct Old English sheepdog markings and his tall poodle size are not a common sight. His calming presence and highest-level behavior compliance make for smiles and positive thoughts for patients of all ages and conditions.
Does he have any dog or cat siblings at home? No, but he has a dog cousin nearby named Puffy.
What does he like to do in his off time? Is he playful or more about lounging around? Mercy loves to lounge as long as it is in view of me. He is constantly monitoring my health needs and makes virtually no demands on me other than his outdoor bathroom breaks.
Anything else we might like to know about you and Mercy? Almost every morning, Mercy and I travel to the Bentonville Bark Park so Mercy can just be a dog with other dogs. He has a few favorite pals and enjoys a good game of chase. Mercy is trained not to socialize with dogs at other times, so our daily trip to the dog park is a good cardio and social activity.
Mercy Hospital’s therapy dog program includes eight therapy dogs and their handlers, and it’s expected three more dogs will be oriented for hospital visits next month. The program is possible because of generous support from Bissell.