Updated: Apr 2, 2020
How University of Maryland Hospital Workers banded together to help a broke Medical Student pay for her therapy dog’s surgery. Now in their time of need, this med student/therapy dog duo is returning the favor and needs your help.
Meet Loki, known as Dogtor Loki at the University of Maryland Medical Center. This two-and-a-half-year-old Rottweiler has become a loved member of the hospital and its long-term trauma patients through her work as an on-call therapy dog. Loki has her own scrubs, official hospital name badge, white coat, and scrub cap. You could say that she is the "real deal".
Photo Credit: Pro Petshots
Loki’s mom, Caroline Benzel, is a second-year Medical Student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. During Caroline’s gap year between her undergraduate degree and medical school, she spent a month caring for her grandfather while he was hospitalized. “There was only so much I could do to keep him entertained and happy. But when those therapy dogs would come in… man would he light up. Five minutes with those dogs could completely turn his day around” she says. Caroline knew that she wanted the next dog she got to be a therapy dog, but what she didn’t know was that an 11-week old Rottweiler puppy would enter her life unexpectedly the week she was accepted to Medical School. “You could say it was serendipitous.”
Loki passed the therapy dog certification with flying colors and the rest was history. Caroline created an Instagram account for Loki (@dogtor.loki) so that they could be on-call around the clock when nurses, doctors, social workers and other hospital staff members request a visit. Caroline and Loki spend an average of two to three days in the hospital each week visiting patients and also spend most holidays in the hospital spreading joy through Loki's presence.
“All of Loki’s therapy work and volunteer expenses are out of pocket for me, so I tend to cut back on my own stuff so that I can keep Loki looking pretty with new leashes and collars for the patients at the hospital.”
The sense of community surrounding Dogtor Loki the Therapy Dog is remarkable. When Loki needed ACL surgery in February, it was paid entirely by hospital employee donations. “These people are my pseudo family, and I just want them to be safe and happy," explains Caroline. "We take care of our own as well as others.” In a matter of two weeks after creating a GoFundMe page, all $4000 of Loki’s medical expenses had been covered.
When therapy dog visits were halted due to COVID, it was a hard hit for a lot of people. When all visitations - both human and therapy animal - were put on pause, Caroline knew that patients would have a hard time with the adjustment. Loki and Caroline started doing digital therapy dog visits to bring joy to both patients and hospital staff.
It was during these FaceTime calls that Caroline noticed that hospital staff members were wearing masks and other PPE 24/7, and that their faces and skin were getting irritated and chafed. Caroline says that it was clear working 8+ hour shifts were becoming physically painful for these workers. Loki and her mom decided to start putting together care packages which they are calling COVID Hero Healing Kits for the University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma Staff.
“The kits include things that help with the physical damage due to the prolonged use of PPE while also boosting staff morale and showing them how much we appreciate what they’re doing to keep our community safe," Caroline explains. The COVID kits contain a variety of drugstore items to help soothe irritated skin as well as things like tea and gum.
When Caroline started ordering the supplies in bulk, she quickly realized that Amazon has placed a limit on the number of travel lotions and Gold Bond powders that a single person can order. Caroline created an Amazon wishlist for the supplies so that others could purchase items for the COVID Kits. On Monday, Caroline and Loki had made roughly 500 full kits and 400 half kits with the help of community donations.
Loki and Caroline are asking for anyone who wants to support their efforts to make donations via their Amazon Wishlist. All items are shipped directly to Caroline’s address where the kits are being prepared. Their goal is to make 1200 kits. They are especially in need of Gold Bond Powder and Lotion.
Coming together to support our medical community AND a Baltimore Dog Mom doing amazing work? Now that's something we can get behind.
If you wish to contribute supplies for Caroline and Loki's COVID Hero Healing kits, an Amazon wishlist for the supplies can be found here.