The moment Finn sees a sheet being laid on a bed, he springs into action: The 75-pound former racing greyhound hops onto the bed, spins around four times and plops down to cuddle. But Finn isn’t just relaxing like any ordinary pet. Finn’s naps are part of his work as a therapy dog at Riley’s Children Health in Indianapolis, where he helps comfort sick kids.
“He is a sweet dog,” Finn's owner Kathi Moore told TODAY. “For two hours he goes from room to room and lays down, gets pets and receives treats.”
Before living with Moore, Finn, raced in Daytona, Florida under the name Gene's Outlaw. While Finn enjoyed running with other greyhounds, he never cared about being the fastest or actually winning a race.
After racing for about nine months, he ended up in Indianapolis at the Prison Greyhounds program, where inmates help racing dogs transition to a more leisurely lifestyle.
Moore met Finn two years ago when she was searching for a dog to foster. Two of her dogs passed away because of old age and she was still mourning the loss of her father-in-law. Meeting Finn felt like fate. Finn's racing name, Gene, was the same as her father-in-law’s name.
“We decided we were going to foster (Finn), especially when we found out what his name was,” Moore explained. “Within 24 hours, I was calling Prison Greyhounds back and said, ‘This fostering is not going to work for us.’ She said, ‘Oh no what happened?’ and I said, ‘We decided to keep him.’”
Finn, like many greyhounds, spends most of his day sleeping. But he had such a sweet disposition that Moore felt like he’d be a perfect therapy dog. She approached Paws & Think to train the rescue. Paws & Think is a non-profit organization serving at-risk canines, children and adults with disabilities in Indiana.
After his eight weeks of training, they applied to work at Riley where both Moore and Finn had to be interviewed. Finn had to prove he wouldn’t take food from children, become frightened by wheelchairs or get annoyed by pulled ears.
“We look at the behavior of the dog. Do they enjoy getting a lot of pets, do they try interacting with people? And we look for things we don’t want them to have like pulling back, growling, excessive barking,” Caitlin Dougherty, a child life specialist at Riley Children’s Health, told TODAY.
Riley’s pet therapy program started in 2013 and over the years Dougherty has seen how a dog transforms a child. Even a child who sulked during a week-long stay couldn’t suppress a grin when the therapy dog visited.
“We brought in our dog in and they broke out in the biggest smile,” she recalled.
“It’s really just a great opportunity for patients and family to have their stress and anxiety reduced. There are a lot of studies that show that pet therapy does the same sort of things as exercise does, reduces anxiety and gets the oxytocin going,” Dougherty said.
Finn, the only greyhound working at Riley, attracts loads of attention.
“They are a breed that are still mysterious. He certainly is unusual,” Moore said.
But most importantly, Finn’s trips make a difference.
“Volunteering always benefits the dogs,” she said. “But Finn benefits more than just the children. He benefits the family and the staff. It is just a fun thing we can do.”