Trey Chase and Tucker Isaacson have a lot in common. Neither talks much and both are blondes who love peanut butter and volunteering.
Trey, a yellow Labrador, volunteers at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph with Kelli Chase. Meanwhile, Tucker, a white English golden retriever, volunteers with his owner, Gerald “Bub” Isaacson, on the other side of town at Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa.
For them, bringing comfort and support to patients at the two Ascension Via Christi hospitals is a family affair that brings them as much joy as they provide others.
Kelli and Trey
Kelli Chase, a social worker at St. Joseph, has owned Trey since August 2014. She brings Trey with her to work to help kids and adults in the hospital’s inpatient behavioral health units.
For children and adults who have been through intense situations, Trey helps bring them peace and love, even if only for a moment. Trey helps calm irritable or frustrated patients often by following his favorite command, “Hug.” Says Kelli: “Trey will hop up on his back legs and hug anyone with my permission.”
Trey was just 6 weeks old when he began therapy training. During the process, he spent three months in the inmate handler program at Hutchinson Correctional Facility. After that, Trey continued training with his handler at CARES, a training facility in Concordia, Kansas, until Kelli and Trey were finally paired together. During his training, Trey learned 42 commands and became officially ready to interact with people needing support.
His first assignment was going with Kelli to her previous job as a school social worker.
Kelli says Trey was helpful to one child in particular. “He was an autistic child who would not leave his desk and go mute, but could open up and relax once Trey came around.”
While labs can be excitable and hyperactive, Trey is polar opposite of his breed’s stereotypes. “My favorite part of Trey is his temperament, joy, personality and how he is with people,” says Kelli. “He’s so mellow that he moves around like he’s 80.”
Bub and Tucker
Kelli’s dad, Bub, retired in 2016 after 40 years in sales. He then decided to spend his days doing what he truly loves – volunteering and making others smile – and knew from Kelli’s experience that as an owner of a therapy dog he could do both.
His first task in retirement was to pick the perfect pup.
Since he owned dogs his whole life, Bub knew what kind of personality he would like in a dog.
"When I went to pick out a dog, I noticed Tucker wasn’t an alpha dog," says Bub. “The breeders had young children and Tucker didn’t leave their side when they played. I knew that he was my dog.”
He adopted Tucker and when he was five months old, they began training together with Therapy Dogs International. “Most dogs don’t pass certification on their first try, but Tucker walked right through the training because of his eagerness to learn and please,” says Bub.
During his TDI training, Tucker was exposed to a variety of situations to ensure that he would respond appropriately, including having small children playing, patting and climbing on him. “He does great with all ages, from babies to older kids, and those who don’t have dogs grow to love him,” says Bub.
When Bub and Tucker are at St. Teresa, everyone is all smiles – including the staff. “They love having a moment to relax and reset while visiting with us,” says Bub, noting they’ve become regular fixtures around the hospital.
In addition to St. Teresa, Bub has volunteered at Rainbows, the Wichita Children’s Home and area retirement centers, where Tucker's loving, docile and calming presence also has been much appreciated.
While Trey and Tucker currently volunteer at Ascension Via Christi separately, they love spending time together. “They’re basically best friends who love to play and relax together when they’re not working,” says Kelli.
And when they are working, they continue to have a positive impact on patients, staff and their owners.
“Having Trey and Tucker as members of our healthcare team is awesome!” says Robyn Chadwick, senior leader for St. Teresa and Behavioral Health Services. “Their calming presence works so well in both our adolescent behavioral health unit and at St. Teresa with our medical/surgical patients. Everyone who interacts with either of them feels better after spending only a few minutes in their company.”
Says Bub: “I see people love on these dogs every day, but I always appreciate how anyone can unconditionally love the dogs regardless of their current attitudes, disabilities or situations.”