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Therapy Dog Gives Virtual Visits

June 9, 2020

Aidan is only 10 years old, but he’s already made quite the name for himself.

He’s the chief comfort officer at Brookfield-based ThoughtFocus, and the subject of a book. And he doesn’t take his work too lightly — minus the occasional sloppy kiss.

Aidan is a comfort dog, and a unique one at that. He’s a crossbreed, part golden retriever and part poodle. And he’s been working as a comfort dog for eight years, since he was a puppy.

On June 1, Aidan and his owner, Samantha Kandah, made a virtual visit to the second-grade classes at Elmwood Elementary School in New Berlin. After students were given a copy of the book “Aidan the Hugging Goldendoodle,” they read the book with Aidan and his owner.

“We feel this is when the children need it,” Kandah said. “It’s a time of uncertainty for children. This is a way to bring them together.”

Originally, Aidan worked as a therapy dog at a hospital in Illinois. But after meeting with his trainer, it was decided that he would be better suited as a comfort dog.

He specializes in giving emotional support. He works with children who have cancer and seniors in hospice care. He works with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

He’s also worked with seniors in memory loss units.

“They don’t always remember their children or grandchildren but they remember Aidan, every single time,” Kandah said.

Kandah said Aidan has a big personality.

“He takes his work serious, but he’s goofy at the same time,” she said. “He just makes everybody’s day.”

Kandah is the marketing director for ThoughtFocus, a technology services company. She brought him with her to work one day.

The CEO of the company fell in love with him.

Shortly after, Aidan was given the title of chief comfort officer at ThoughtFocus.

Kandah said plans with a publisher fell through for the book. But she knew an illustrator, Jim Carlson, and author, Amy Albright, who have both known Aidan since he was a puppy.

So they went ahead and made the book themselves.

Kandah said the book is about Aidan finding his purpose in life.

As a puppy, his parents notice he has a special gift for kindness. So they send him to Chicago.

But he gets a little lost and doesn’t understand his purpose in life until he hears a child’s cry, Kandah said.

The philanthropic arm of ThoughtFocus, ComfortGives, was looking for ways to reach out to the community during the coronavirus pandemic. So they decided to host a virtual reading of the book with a nearby school.

A book was distributed to every student of the class — 100 books, all told.

Tonia Becker of ThoughtFocus said literacy, mental health and stress reduction are causes that ComfortGives cares about.

Michelle Breitenfeldt, a second-grade teacher at Elmwood, said the storytime fit well into their social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction.

SEL is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

She said her students loved the storytime.

“This meeting was an engaging way to focus on those skills and help children see a real-world example of people, and a dog, reaching out to help others,” she said. “Hopefully, through the example of a comfort dog, children will see the benefit of identifying their feelings and seeking out ways to get their social-emotional needs met.”

Aidan is currently offering virtual hugs at no cost to children across Wisconsin.

During the visits, Aidan and Kandah learn a little about the child. Aidan will even kiss the screen for the child.

He’s done 50 so far, and is ready for more.

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