CLEVELAND (WJW) – Smiles are hard to come by in hospitals these days as rooms are filled with COVID-19 patients and staff members work around the clock.

However, everyone smiles when they see Trotter, the therapy dog who is often seen trotting through Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital corridors.

Facility dog handler Rachel Hartjen says, “As soon as they walk onto a unit, you instantly see the staff’s eyes just light up.”

The 2-year old golden retriever, poodle-mix is part of the clinic’s facility dog unit.

Its initial mission was to support children and their families receiving care, but that mission has now shifted, helping stressed hospital staff during the worst wave of the pandemic.

“I’ve had some nurses say, you know, when they have a difficult case or a hard case load or they’re going through a lot of different things they really found comfort and have requested visits with the dog,” Hartjen said.

At University Hospitals, there’s a similar program that has been around for 30 years. The program is growing by the day, helping stressed out hospital workers around the clock.

“Pet Pals will come and they’ll visit with doctors, nurses, administrative staff and there’s no goal, there’s no time limit. We walk in and let people just love on the dogs.”

UH’s Pet Pals is an animal-assisted intervention program, made up of more than 100 volunteer dogs and the hospital’s facility dogs, that work full-time at several UH facilities.

Director Diane Pekarek says when staff have a particularly hard day, they call the woof phone, which sits on her desk.

If it’s a so-called, “Code Lavender,” they know exactly what to do.

“When staff or an individual is having a really, really tough time, we bring a dog there for them to love on. It’s clinically proven that dogs or the cat or the horse will lower blood pressure, lower respiration, releases the feel-good hormone into the brains,” Pekarek said.

The clinic says in addition to continuing fundraising efforts, recent grants from Dunkin Donuts and PetSmart will help meet the demand for more dogs throughout the Cleveland Clinic network.

MetroHealth also has a similar program “Loving Paws,” which is a volunteer assisted visitation program for short-sessions with patients, visitors and staff.