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Guide dog makes career change to help hospital patients in Sarasota

The 2-year-old yellow Labrador now walks the hallways of the hospital as 'Dr. Sophie'.

SARASOTA, Fla. — When life gives you lemons, Sophie the dog makes lemonade.

Originally bred at Palmetto's Southeastern Guide Dogs to become a service dog, the 2-year-old yellow lab is making a career switch due to an ironic diagnosis. At 6 months old, while undergoing her training, a veterinarian discovered a small genetic problem with her optic nerve.

This meant Sophie was unfit to serve and got the pink slip so Carol Sanders and her family adopted her.

Her adopted family knew the dog still "needed to fulfill her mission to help others" and they found the perfect job for her. Sophie will now help patients at HCA Florida Sarasota Doctors Hospital since they're unable to have visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

"Nurses know patients need visitors to help with recovery and if humans can’t visit, perhaps man’s best friend can fill the void," the hospital said in a press release.

RELATED: Southeastern Guide Dogs Walkathon takes over Tampa this weekend

RN Director of Behavioral Health at Sarasota Doctors Hospital Janice McKendrick, MSN., said, "visitors help with healing and reduce the anxiety of being in the hospital." 

She continued, "We needed a way to still include visitors and that’s when Sophie came to the rescue."

Sophie and her owner will visit the hospital once or twice a week. 

"Sophie started her career volunteering actually in Wisconsin at a residential facility with the Wisconsin Veterans Association," Sanders said.

Recently, she made her way around the group therapy room in Sarasota snuggling patients, giving out kisses and pausing for back rubs. 

"Her personality is perfect for being a therapy dog and I think it shows when she walks in the doors off at the hospital anybody who knows Sophie falls in love with her and they're happy to see her," Sanders explained.

According to the hospital's administrators, Sophie visits with and helps calm patients going through stressful medical diagnoses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety.

"Visitors help with healing and reduce the anxiety of being in the hospital," McKendrick said. "Soon as they have seen her and then they were able to pet her head and also sharing of stories about their own pets and that's hugely positive for us."

Sophie's presence in the hospital has brought smiles and laughter among patients. Her owner is happy that despite her medical condition, she is still able to help others. She's the second dog after Buffie, the COVID sniffing dog, to work at the hospital.

RELATED: Community raises $38K for 15-year-old's life-saving service dog

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