The Dentist with the Dog: An Interview with Paul Weiss, DDS
As a pediatric dentist, Paul Weiss, DDS is very aware of the importance of oral health and visiting a dentist from a young age, but he also understands the dental phobia or fear that can overcome a child when undergoing a dental procedure. This is where Weiss’ Golden Retriever, Brooke, comes in. Between her deep, gentle eyes, her wagging tail, and her warm, furry coat, she serves as the perfect addition to Weiss’ dental practice.
Weiss was born and raised in the Buffalo, New York area and attended SUNY at Buffalo for both his Bachelors and DDS degree. After graduating from dental school in 1987, he went on to complete two more years of training in order to specialize in Pediatric Dentistry. Weiss opened his own practice in Williamsville, New York in 1989 and has been serving infants, children, and teenagers in the greater Buffalo area ever since.
The Road to Becoming a Therapy Dog
About five years ago, Weiss’ teenage son began longing for a dog. After some consideration, Weiss decided that adding a dog to the family would be beneficial to them all. But, their family pet, Brooke, proved to have the ability to impact more than just the Weiss family.
“One day when I was walking her in the park, I noticed that everyone who we passed smiled when they looked down at Brooke,” said Weiss. “I realized that if she could bring a smile to the face of everyone we passed, she had a higher purpose than to just be my pet.”
He began researching therapy dogs in dental offices and was surprised to find very little information on this matter. Weiss knew, though, that Brooke would be a great fit in his office and decided to move forward with the process. After receiving the okay from the New York State Dental Association and purchasing his own insurance policy to cover the liability of bringing a dog into his building, he began preparing Brooke for her new job.
While it was not required that Brooke be certified as a therapy dog in order to work in Weiss’ private practice, he decided to have her go through the certification process with Therapy Dogs International (TDI) to be sure that she could pass the therapy dog test and was ready to take on a role in his office. Because of Brooke’s temperament, she did not require a lot of training in order to prepare for her therapeutic role. As a puppy, Weiss taught her the basic commands such as sit, stay, and down; his only concerns were with her jumping and possibly reacting to the variety of noises that are present in a dental office. To make sure that Brooke was completely ready to work as a therapy dog, Weiss enrolled her in a two-week-long intensive boot camp at K9 Connection in Buffalo, New York. Every day for two weeks, Brooke received professional training that quickly prepared her for the TDI certification test.
Weiss and Brooke passed the TDI test with flying colors, and the three-year-old Golden Retriever began her role at the dental office in the summer of 2012.
The Dentist with the Dog
Currently, Brooke provides comfort and smiles to Weiss’ patients on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. During her time in the office and during visits with patients, she is supervised by Weiss’ administrative assistant. While at work, Brooke occasionally serves as a greeter in the reception area, but she spends most of her time with children in the clinical area. Because of the nature of the practice, Weiss’ office does not have individual treatment rooms, but rather several chairs in a row in an open bay. This arrangement allows for Brooke’s handler to take her from chair to chair to visit with patients. The children love interacting with Brooke and always want to play tug-of-war with her, watch her perform a trick, or stroke her soft fur. Some patients request that she be on their lap during treatment, but because of her 55-pound size, she is most often found lying next to patients or sitting beside their chair. During office visits, children also enjoy posing with Brooke for a picture that is then uploaded onto the practice’s Facebook page for easy viewing and sharing with friends.
“A dentist’s office is a dentist’s office,” said Weiss, “but [Brooke] completely changes the atmosphere.”
She transforms the energy level in the office and makes everyone-patients, parents, staff, and Weiss-feel at ease.
A Reason to be Excited for a Dentist Appointment
When asked about the impact that a therapy dog has on patients, Weiss said, “They love it.”
Children want to come to the dentist when Brooke is working and are often upset with their parents if they have an appointment scheduled for a time when she is not in. Weiss has even had patients drive for more than two hours in order to go to the “dentist with the dog.”
During her TDI test, the examiner commented that Brooke seemed to have a special ability to sense and connect with developmentally disabled individuals. Weiss has seen this hold true as she connects especially well with his developmentally disabled patients. For instance, Weiss was able to complete a procedure on one such patient who was anxious and easily stressed out and never would’ve been able to get through the procedure without having Brooke to pet.
Weiss has seen parents leave his office in tears because they are so happy that their child actually looks forward to coming to the dentist. While the children often aren’t aware of the significant impact that Brooke is having on them, parents and those around the office recognize her therapeutic and beneficial role.
“When her tail wags, everyone’s tail wags,” said Weiss.
The Future of Therapy Dogs in Medical Settings
Weiss is satisfied with the ways that Brooke is being used in his practice right now. Despite indications from patients that it would be a popular move, he does not plan to bring her into the office more frequently because he does not want to stress her out too much and wants to leave plenty of time for patients who do not desire to have Brooke present during their visit. Weiss respects those who are either allergic or afraid of dogs, and these patients are generally scheduled for a day when Brooke is not in the office or, if she is, she is put in a separate room during their appointment.
Brooke’s incorporation into Weiss’ practice has proved to be a great success, but he does face the challenge of uneducated people who do not understand her use. He must explain to some people that no one will get sick from her and that she is not delivering any type of bad bacteria that could have adverse effects on patients. Weiss is working to make sure that everyone realizes that dogs are actually quite sanitary and very appropriate in a medical setting.
A few years ago Weiss may have been one of the only ones with a dog in his practice, but this is now becoming more common place and widely accepted. After Brooke first started in Weiss’ office, a picture of her with a child during a procedure went viral online, which initiated many stories about her in publications such as the New York State Dental Journal and Huffington Post. The buzz that she created was very encouraging to Weiss, and he was touched by the public’s acceptance and comments such as “I wish you weren’t just a pediatric dentist so I could visit a dentist with a dog.” Since then, Weiss has received many phone calls from both local and nonlocal people who want information about bringing a dog into a dental office. Weiss is happy to inspire others to make use of a therapy dog.
“I would encourage people to do it,” said Weiss. “If you have a dog with the right temperament, then go for it.”
For more information about Paul A. Weiss, DDS and Brooke, visit their website.