Therapy dog helps families at Ronald McDonald House

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A therapy dog is bringing comfort to families with sick kids at the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington.

A bad medical diagnosis can happen to anyone at any age, but when it happens to kids, parents are hit especially hard.

One place they might turn to is the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Burlington. It's a home away from home for families to stay while their kids get help from the UVM Medical Center.

"It was a lot to process," said Jordan Phaneuf, a Ronald McDonald House guest.

It's every parent's worst nightmare, but the nightmare became reality for Phaneuf and his fiancée. Three weeks ago they welcomed a baby boy, Jonathan. But shortly after he was born, Jonathan began having seizures.

"He had blood clots that formed that caused seizures and a massive stroke on the left side of his brain," Phaneuf said.

Jonathan has been in the hospital for the past three weeks and his parents have been close by, staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Phaneuf says there's community among the parents, but there's someone who brings him a lot of joy at the end of a hard day.

Mike is an almost 3-year-old Australian Labradoodle named after a mentor and volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House.

"If we are ever feeling down and we see Mike, it just brightens us right up," Phaneuf said.

He says Mike offers him peace of mind and helps him process what's happening to his son. And that's why Kristine Bickford, the organization's director, brings Mike around. He's part of the family.

"It’s for the children, it’s for the parents, it’s actually for staff and volunteers, too," Bickford said.

Some of the people who visit, like Phaneuf, stay for an extended period of time and have left their pets at home.

Mike roaming around the hallways completes the home vibe Bickford has created.

Phaneuf is happy to see Mike when he comes back at the end of the day, especially since it's not his first time here.

"I couldn’t breathe on my own. I was born, I had a breathing tube, I was 1 pound, 15 ounces when I was born," he said.

The last time he was there, he was the same age as his son. He flips through a photo album looking at pictures of his fight for life at a young age and it reminds him that being a fighter runs in the family.

"He can make it through, it will be a long process but he can make it through," Phaneuf said.

The therapy dog has been there helping families for about two years.

Baby Jonathan is expected to leave the hospital on Friday.