Rikki the SuperPup is comforting children at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), thanks to support from individuals, businesses and organizations who generously funded the program through the TMH Foundation.
Rikki is a plush stuffed animal from Vermont Teddy Bear Company and is used in a variety of settings to ease the fears of children. The SuperPup is named for Rikki, a golden retriever and a Hurricane Katrina rescue puppy, who made her way to Tallahassee and into the hearts of her handlers, Chuck and Patty Mitchell.
As a Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy dog for nearly 10 years, Rikki, who passed away in 2017, helped many people cope with trauma and challenging situations.
Now when recovering from surgery, children can hug the plush Rikki. Clinical staff also use the stuffed animal to teach children about the care they’re going to receive. If a child needs a shot, stitches or even a cast, doctors and nurses can perform treatments on the plush Rikki to lessen the child’s anxieties.
TMH cares for 1,500 to 2,000 children ages 2-12 annually who can receive a SuperPup, thanks to generous community support recently given through the TMH Foundation.
“One of the reasons the Foundation exists is to bring comfort to patients and their families,” TMH Foundation President and Chief Advancement Officer Nigel Allen said. “I can’t think of a more important way to do that than to care for the emotional wellbeing of our youngest patients, who are often very scared when they come to the hospital. We are so thankful to our donors for making this possible.”
Reid Collins, 2, was one of the first patients to receive the new SuperPup. He visited TMH recently to have blood drawn in Kids Korner, TMH’s pediatric outpatient unit located within the Children’s Center.
“It’s a wonderful program” Reid’s mom, Rachel Collins, said. “I think bringing even a little bit of joy to kids, especially in a situation like this, is so important.”
The current SuperPup Program is an expansion of a program started in 2017 through the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy Department. With funding from the Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar and Pets Ad Litem, the Animal Therapy Department distributed a plush Rikki in the hospital, through the R.E.A.D. Program, which allows children to receive extra practice by reading to a therapy animal, and the Florida Courthouse Therapy Dogs program, which supports children testifying in court.
The new Rikki comes in two sizes, a large pup for older children, and a smaller pup for younger children. Both have realistic fur and wear a cape.
“It’s so nice to see a Rikki SuperPup that a child can really cling to and bury their face in something resembling Rikki’s beautiful golden fur,” Chuck Mitchell said.
The program will continue to expand, based on available funding, to include distribution of Rikki throughout the TMH network. Joy Williams, a nurse manager in surgery, pushed for growing the program after experiencing a health scare in 2019 with her son, Nolan. Thanks to TMH’s partnership with Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville, Nolan was referred to Jacksonville for surgery. Nurses there gave him a stuffed animal that planted the seed for Joy’s dream.
“I immediately thought about the children I’ve seen at TMH,” Williams said. “They come to our hospital to get their appendix out, they have a broken arm or leg, or they’ve experienced some sort of trauma. I thought, we have to do this for our pediatric patients throughout TMH.”
The SuperPup Program received a boost from the Rev. Brant and Alexandra Copeland, who celebrated their retirement from First Presbyterian Church in 2020 by asking parishioners, family and friends to support the program.
“It was an honor for us to rally our friends and family around this cause,” Alexandra Copeland said. “Brant and I have a heart for children and celebrating our retirement in this way was special. We know these pups will bring comfort to children when they need a friend.”
In addition to the Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar, Pets Ad Litem, the Copelands and many individual donors, Prime Meridian Bank and Ekk Realty are current sponsors of the program.
SuperPup will be an ongoing effort of TMH and the TMH Foundation. The program, which costs about $50,000 annually, is funded entirely by community support given through the TMH Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit.
Learn more information about the program and sponsorship opportunities.