Home Newsmakers Four-legged Staff Member Eases the Ruff Days

Four-legged Staff Member Eases the Ruff Days

Watch out for your neighborhood-friendly dog! Reese, a certified therapy dog, is the new staff addition to Whittington Eye Care Associates located in Charleston, West Virginia. Jennifer L. Stevens, OD, graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and bought the practice from her parents with her brother, Mark Whittington, OD. She wishes to carry on her parents’ legacy of being “people who love people.”


Dr. Stevens and Reese

One of her biggest initiatives was incorporating Reese into her practice. Reese was recently introduced on the practice’s Facebook on July 18, but she’s been in the office for approximately a year. Her main duties are greeting patients, sitting next to patients in the exam room and resting her head on top of a patient’s leg or feet, providing slight pressure that can help ease anxiety.

Reese sitting beside a patient in an exam chair

Dr. Stevens says she recognized Reese’s potential because of her kind and quiet nature, and chemistry with children. Originally, Reese was trained to help at nursing homes or schools. However, Dr. Stevens says she decided to give her a role in the practice when three-month-old Reese silently sat beside the chair of an emergency patient Dr. Stevens was treating. From then on, Reese was gradually trained to become a certified therapy dog and work with people diagnosed with anxiety, post traumatic stress syndrome and other special needs, says Dr. Stevens. She also has completed her Canine Good Citizenship certification through the AKC.


Brooke and Reese

Reese can be specifically requested for appointments and works especially well with children with developmental disorders, such as autism and Down syndrome, as well as patients who have high anxiety levels. Dr. Stevens says she was initially worried that having Reese on the staff would decrease professionalism, but there were no patient complaints. In fact, the reaction was the opposite; there was an increase in patient traffic and positive reviews. One mother drove 40 miles with her children for the sole purpose of coming to this practice because her children were so afraid of doctors that they would cry at any visit, says Dr. Stevens. It was a successful attempt because the children didn’t cry once, even while their eyes were being dilated. Another patient, 9-year-old Brooke said, “ I was so scared when I thought I had to have my eyes dilated, but Reese was right there! She was so calm and it helped me calm down. I love Reese so much!”


Reese with a patient

Dr. Stevens says her 21 staff members are also much happier and positive. Usually, Reese tags her or sits at her assigned desk, but on days when one of her staff is feeling upset, she would instinctively tag them, without any commands. In one instance, Dr. Stevens says she saw one of her staff walk upstairs crying with Reese at her side, but the employee returned a bit later, visibly more relaxed and happier.

Dr. Stevens says she plans to continue using her family practice to serve her community by providing ocular care while being sensitive to individual needs. Besides recruiting Reese as her staff, she and her family also remodeled her practice to include a gurney entrance for her senior patients, and she sees her practice constantly evolving to provide the best patient experience.

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