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Dog provides more than just company

Date: 2/1/2011

Feb. 20, 2011

By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE — Brady, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever, provides a healing presence to children and adolescents each Saturday morning at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital.

For more than a year, Brady and his owner/trainer Jim Formica have spent each Saturday morning meeting young people and their counselors on the specialized inpatient psychiatric care unit at the hospital.

The unit's interdisciplinary team provides family, individual, and group-focused treatment that incorporates psychiatric, psychosocial, medical, behavioral, nursing and educational evaluation and intervention.

"I think the reason we visit weekly is because the children seem to enjoy the visits so much," Formica said during an interview with Reminder Publications. By day, Formica is a special agent with the Treasury Department based in Springfield.

Formica explained that the children make a "great connection" with Brady, and he welcomes the opportunity to give children at the hospital something to look forward to on the weekend.

"I feel the time the children spend with Brady is truly therapeutic," Formica said.

Formica trained Brady with help from the Bright Spot Therapy Dogs organization.

"Brady is the only dog I've ever volunteered with," Formica said. "The more I got to know him, I knew he should be more than a family pet."

On a recent chilly Saturday morning, Formica and Brady greeted the children and counselors on the wing, one at a time, to ensure that everyone had ample time alone to pet Brady and feed him treats.

"What makes the visits so special is the bond Brady and some of the children have," Formica said. "To see the children bond with him like he is one of their own means they are making that same connection that any dog owner has felt but is hard to describe. That means Brady is doing his job as a therapy dog."

Jere W. Dittrich, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, director of Nursing, echoed the sentiments of Formica, explaining he too has seen how Brady has helped calm some of the children as well as make some of the children feel better about themselves.

"Dogs don't judge you," Dittrich said, adding, "They love you unconditionally."

Brady has a lot of love to give as evidenced by his calming presence of just lying down and almost falling asleep — all the while with children sitting by his side — petting him.

"My best guess as to why Brady reacts well to children would be their energy," Formica said. "The children come in and they are so loving and genuinely excited to see Brady that I honestly believe Brady can feel their energy and respond accordingly."

No matter how intrusive or hurried the children were with Brady's space, he never changed his stance — which was always cool and collected.

"Brady's niche is definitely kids," Formica said, adding that the counselors at Providence are "great too."

"It's a great service to our kids," Dittrich added.

Formica noted that Bright Spot Therapy Dogs is always in need of more members to volunteer with their dogs. For more information, visit

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