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CHKD facility dog helping kids on their road to rehabilitation and recovery

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Posted at 4:25 AM, May 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 07:08:45-04

NORFOLK, Va. - When 16-year-old Seth Emrich was admitted to Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters a month ago, he couldn't walk, as he'd suddenly lost all movement in his lower body.

Enter a golden guardian angel.

"She is a facility dog that comes to CHKD with me every day, and we work on rehab services together," said Shannon Hood.

Hood is referring to SaraLee, a 7-year-old purebred golden retriever who is literally a 40-hour-a-week employee of the eight-bed children's rehab unit at the hospital.

"She is paid in food and love and pets."

But how she is paying it forward to patients like Seth is even more impressive.

"SaraLee has advanced training," said Hood. "A therapy dog has a college degree, where a facility dog has a masters degree or doctorate."

SaraLee knows more than 40 commands that help patients like Seth overcome nerve damage, strengthen his reflexes, endurance and motor skills.

"She helps with me leaning forward and to the side and shifting my weight," said Seth.

Her love, handshakes and wet kisses also help build confidence, social skills and lower stress and anxiety.

"Being in a hospital can be very scary, and when you have a piece of home or comfort, it really helps to decrease the stress of being in a hospital," said Hood.

"In your lowest of low, she can make you feel joy from inside out and she resets your day when she comes in," said Seth.

Related: Norfolk service dog competes in national contest of heroic dogs

A cheerful canine spreading joy and jump starting the journey to recovery.

"I don't think I could do my recovery without SaraLee," said Seth. "SaraLee is the best friend when you walk in and walk out or [are]wheeled in our wheeled out."