Every Saturday afternoon, a senior executive at Akron Children’s Hospital sheds his shirt and tie for a different role: Doggie Brigade volunteer.
When Shawn Lyden enters the hospital on these days, he’s better known as “Maya’s owner,” not his official title of executive vice president.
His fluffy black Newfoundland with a face like a bear becomes the center of attention the minute she places her big paws in the place.
“I think the Doggie Brigade is a great thing we do,” Lyden said. “To see the smile that the dogs put on the kids’ faces is just great.”
Maya is one of 84 dogs in the Doggie Brigade, a volunteer program that brings approved pooches to the bedside for children who are hospitalized.
Lyden has long admired the Doggie Brigade but never had a dog with the right disposition to join — until Maya.
When the 2-year-old gentle giant was a puppy, she spent time at his wife’s yoga studio in Hudson. The couple noticed Maya was great with children who came to the studio.
“She was just a natural with kids,” Lyden said. “She’s so gentle. She has no aggressive tendencies whatsoever.”
Before joining the Doggie Brigade, dogs must pass a veterinary exam and extensive behavioral screening. These pets must be heads and tails above the rest — no exceptions.
When Lyden first had Maya evaluated a year ago, she flunked because she was too young. “Puppy brain,” the tester explained. Six months later, she passed.
During the week, Lyden spends 60 hours or more helping run the pediatric hospital.
So why come back with Maya on his days off?
“This is totally different,” he said. “I’m a volunteer. It’s a neat way to see the hospital.”
When Lyden brings Maya to the hospital, he wears a blue Doggie Brigade volunteer polo shirt. The only clue to his high rank is the word “administration” on his badge.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Braeden Barton’s eyes grew large as Maya lumbered into his hospital room.
At 135 pounds, she’s more than twice the size of many of the patients she visits.
“This is Maya,” Lyden told the 7-year-old from Green.
“It’s a big dog!” Braeden commented.
“She is a big dog,” Lyden agreed. “But she’s gentle.”
Maya flopped onto the cool floor next to Braeden’s bed after the boy petted her.
“How much do you think she weighs?” Lyden asked. “Take a wild guess.”
“Thirty thousand pounds,” Braeden responded.
During the visit, Braeden’s mother, Michelle Barton, praised the hospital staff but raised concerns about a long wait and other issues when she brought her son there during the night for complications from diabetes.
As she was talking, she suddenly stopped.
“Do you really want to hear this?” she asked the Doggie Brigade volunteer.
“Yes,” Lyden said earnestly. “I work here.”
Another day, a grateful parent thanked him for bringing Maya to visit a sick child.
“That’s the first time she smiled all week,” the parent told him.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.