Nursing students improve veterans care with innovative dog kennel

BIMSON Dog Kennel2
Master's-degree leadership students Michael Dion (left) and Lori Jacoda (right) showcase their innovative dog kennel designed to enable pet-owning veterans to receive health-care services at the Sacramento VA Medical Center while maintaining contact with their pets.

When nurses Emmanuel Besa, Michael Dion and Lori Jagoda enrolled in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, they never imagined that canines would play a role in their coursework aimed at improving human health.  Focused on the collaborative vision of the nursing school and partnered with the surrounding community, these students in the Master of Science —Leadership Degree Program soon learned that the answer to a health-care problem plaguing veterans could be found in a container for four-pawed companions.

The School of Nursing goes beyond traditional boundaries to transform health care through nursing education, research and leadership.  Besa, Dion and Jagoda embraced that vision via Community Connections, a course in which faculty match students with community organizations to design and complete a project that addresses an issue in the delivery of health care. Paired with their mentor at the Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System, nurse Margo Duckett, the team explored a number of concerns within the Sacramento VA Medical Center honing in on one: pet-owner veterans seeking health care while with their dogs.

Whether homeless or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other emotional problems, these patients rely on their canine companions for valuable comfort and support. Yet dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so facility administrators are not required to allow the dogs inside. They also feared that dogs, even on a leash, posed safety concerns within the center. Faced with the option of receiving care or staying with their pets, many of the veterans chose the latter.

“The whole point of our project was to listen to the needs of the VA Medical Center staff and try to help them achieve their goal of being more patient centered,” Jagoda explained. “We don’t normally deal with emotional support animals, but if you turn away vets because of their dogs, they might not get the care they need. A lot of times, these dogs are the only family they have.”

While nurses typically partner with people and their families, one at a time, the veteran’s challenge presented an opportunity for these graduate nursing students to positively affect the outcome of many individuals.  The goal: create a kennel that simultaneously confines and calms the dog safely, while providing access for the owner to pet the animal. Besa, Dion and Jagoda put the School of Nursing’s interdisciplinary ideals into action and partnered with the UC Davis College of Engineering to design kennels that would both accommodate the medical center’s needs and the patients’ desire to stay with their dogs.

Engineering students ultimately created a custom dog kennel with wheels for mobility, a small opening on top for owner access, and a special cover to keep the dog from becoming agitated. The future engineers even made it collapsible, a space saver when not in use.  The kennel prototypes have since been embellished with camouflage cushions and covers. Center administrators hope to increase stock and implement the kennels’ routine use in the facility.

“It was a great opportunity to be a part of what turned out to be a terrific collaborative project,” Dion said. “By working together, we accomplished our individual objectives, and more importantly, improved the experience for the vets.  It feels good to know our idea has the power to bridge a gap and allow this group of individuals to receive the care they need and deserve.”