Staff dog joins care team at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital

Isha, the new pediatric facility pooch, is already brightening spirits

The first week at a new job can be nerve-wracking, but the newest member of the Chase Child Life staff at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital is completely calm. In fact, she’s comfortable enough to lie down during her workday like it’s no big deal.

Yet her colleagues can’t get enough of her. Their faces light up when they see her and she never has to say a word.

Such is on-the-job life for Isha, the pediatric facility dog that just started working full-time at UCLA Health.

A nearly 2-year-old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, Isha has been trained since puppyhood to work in a hospital setting. Once she begins interacting with pediatric patients, she’ll help comfort them during medical procedures, support them during physical therapy and bring smiles to the faces of everyone she meets during her workday.

“Isha is another tool in the Child Life department to really reduce stress and anxiety in our pediatric patients,” says Isha’s handler, Child Life Specialist Adina Bodolay, MS. “We’re really trying to enhance the patient experience.”

A dog with special traits

Isha's handler, Child Life Specialist Adina Bodolay, will join the Labrador-Golden Retriver mix as she interacts with pediatric patients at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

Bodolay waited a year to get Isha, a certified assistance dog trained through Canine Companions, which has been training and placing service dogs since 1975. Bodolay — a Child Life Specialist at UCLA Health for more than 20 years and a lifelong dog owner — knew she needed a special set of characteristics in a pediatric service dog.

The pup would have to be good around children, calm but still playful, comfortable in clinical settings, not a big barker and not easily distractible.

“She’s a really good match,” Bodolay says.

Isha even gets her own employee badge. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)
Like Bodolay, Isha will work 40 hours a week in pediatrics.

When she’s not working, Isha lives in Bodolay’s home, where she shares space with Bodolay’s Shih Tzu-terrier mix, Susie.

Even Isha’s off-the-job life is disciplined, however, Bodolay says. Unlike Susie, Isha can’t have treats, eat people food or jump up on the couch without an invitation. Bodolay uses the same commands at home that Isha follows in the hospital. Isha also follows a strict diet to keep her at her ideal weight.

“It’s different than having a regular dog, but she’s amazing,” Bodolay says. “She’s so calm, sensitive and sweet.”

She’s also meticulously well-kept. Unlike most pet dogs, Isha has her fur and her teeth brushed nightly and her nails trimmed once a week.

“Her nails are nicer than mine,” Bodolay jokes.

Connecting with colleagues

The 50-pound pooch has already made an impact on hospital staff, who lined up to greet her during her official welcome party Tuesday, Oct. 25.

“We’re so happy you’re here,” Marla Knoll, LCSW, said as she knelt to scratch Isha’s head.

“It’s different than having a regular dog, but she’s amazing,” Bodolay says of Isha. “She’s so calm, sensitive and sweet.” (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)
“As much as our patients have challenging days, I think our staff does, too,” Bodolay says.

Sometimes just seeing a dog in the hospital halls, she says, can make things feel a little lighter.

“She’ll be a consistent presence of joy and healing for our patients,” said Meghan Ruby, MSW, at Isha’s welcome party. “Animals are so magical. They’ll help children adjust to being in the hospital.”

“She’ll also add more normalcy” to the hospital environment, said Shannon MacLaren, LCSW. “I’m excited for the kids. I think she’ll help parents, too.”

Added Andrea Ferris, MSW, “She’s already helped us.”

Learn more about the Child Life Specialists at UCLA Health.