How a dog is making a big difference in a second career at a hospital

DENVER - You can hear the laughter of two teenagers up and down the halls, of all places, a mental health and substance abuse counseling office.

The laughter comes on the heels of a black lab named Pauletta, bounding along the carpet to fetch her blue bunny toy.

Pauletta is a regular at the Substance Abuse Treatment Education Program (STEP) at Denver Health.

"Kids come here to either overcome their trauma so they can get sober, or just figure out how to get sober because they've been experimenting," says clinical social worker Amanda Ingram.

Just by being there, Pauletta the lab provides some of the best medicine to teens and their families battling drug and alcohol abuse: unconditional love and laughter.

"Without her I wouldn't want to come anymore," says teen Seina Casalini, petting Pauletta on a couch in Ingram's office, "You're my favorite reason to be here Pauletta!"

"She just kind of bops around to everyone's offices," says Ingram.

Pauletta is a therapy dog, to both patients and staff at the mental healthcare office.

Casalini has been coming to the STEP program for the past seven months. Both she and Ingram noticed a big change after she invited Pauletta to join her during counseling.

Casalini had been afraid of dogs until she met Pauletta.

"You can tell her anything and she'll never judge you," she said.

High school student Greyson Kochevar also sees Pauletta regularly when he comes in to Denver Health.

"She's kind of like that person to lean on," Kochevar says, stroking Pauletta's ears.

Pauletta was raised as a puppy by Ingram to become a guide-dog for the blind.

Unfortunately, Pauletta did not make the ideal candidate and was sent back home.

Some of the dog's brothers and sisters did not make the cut either.

One of those was her brother Pesto.

"I knew she had other siblings that also got career changed and I knew Pesto was one of them, but I never knew what happened to Pesto," Ingram said.

A few weeks ago, Ingram was watching 9NEWS when she saw Pesto's story.

Pesto also went to guide-dog training a few years ago. He passed every exam with flying colors until the very end, when he failed the distraction exam.

He returned to Colorado and now lives with a mother and her two boys, both of which have disabilities.

"When I saw the story that he was a service dog for this cute adorable family, and changed those kids lives, I was like, oh my gosh, Pauletta is changing lives too!" Ingram said, "These dogs choose to either go forward and be a guide dog, or they just do something to get career-changed because they're not really feeling it."

That appears to be the case for both Pesto and Pauletta, who have gone on to change lives beyond what they perhaps could have done as guide dogs.

"I can't imagine not having her. This seems like a much better fit for her," Ingram said.

As for Kochevar, he knows the bond he shares with Pauletta is something special.

"Dogs are good for everybody, they can really change anybody's life. You just have to find the right dog to click with, and this is my dog," he said.


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