Kathy Ozolins is an occupational therapist at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana who works with patients with vision trouble due to stroke, brain injury, or other underlying conditions.
Kathy started as an Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) volunteer in 2019. As a furlough volunteer, she took several service dogs in training to work and saw firsthand their impact on her patients. After seeing these results, she knew a facility dog would perfectly match her.
Finally, in 2023, Kathy found that match when she was paired with ICAN Crunchee, who thanks to a private donor, was sponsored in memory of Kathy's dad, Richard Burt. In fact, Crunchee has a wide array of collars that all represent parts of Richard's life.
And Crunchee proudly dons those collars when she goes to work every day with Kathy. While at the hospital, she visits patients about every 30 minutes. In each of these appointments, Crunchee is facilitating meaningful and goal-oriented activities, sometimes.
Kathy describes many of her patients' injuries as life-changing events and explains how it can be difficult for her patients to find the motivation to build back their strength.
"But with Crunchee," Kathy says, "my patients can reach higher goals. Their motivation is higher, and anxiety is lower with her in the room."
One of Crunchee's favorite activities to do with patients is the card game 'War.' When given the cue, she will pick up a card from the pile and hand it to the patient, who will then determine who won the round.
Another favorite game of hers is Kerplunk. In this game, Crunchee and the patients take turns removing a single straw from a tube while trying to minimize the number of marbles that fall through the web and into their trays. While the goal is prevent the marbles from falling, Kathy believes that losing the game and watching the figures fall is Crunchee's favorite part.
Kathy said, "Crunchee has pretty good luck in games and tends to win more than she loses."
While this may all sound like fun and games, patients playing with Crunchee are actually working on things like reaching across their midline to grab the cards or interact with her while practicing fine motor skills and coordination.
Besides playing games, Crunchee is also able to sit in a wagon while patients push and pull her to build strength, retrieve laundry and socks from the dryer for patients to match and fold, and fetch items that patients throw for her. She can also read several cue cards that patients use fine motor skills to hold up or practice speaking to her.
Although Crunchee works hard, she leaves time for fun as well. Kathy had Crunchee on her first birthday while still in training, so the RHI team threw a birthday party. This year, the team planned an even bigger party for Crunchee's second birthday now that she is officially their forever service dog.
In the future, Kathy hopes to be able to incorporate Crunchee into different therapies, like speech or physical therapy. She also has hopes to develop a bingo game for Crunchee to play with patients, as well as a giant Kerplunk game.
"Crunchee is so smart, and she can do so many things to help patients. I think I'm only limited by my own creativity," said Kathy.
If you'd like to support Facility Service Dogs like Crunchee, consider a gift to ICAN. Your donation will help us unleash even more abilities for Hoosiers in need.
(Story supplied by ICAN)