When Caydence Brannaman was born premature in 2006, 27 weeks into her mother’s pregnancy, her family knew that she would need a host of medical procedures and a lifetime of care. At birth Caydence, or Cayde, had an atrial septal defect in the upper chamber of her heart, and during evaluation and treatment, doctors discovered that Cayde was also suffering from pulmonary vein stenosis.
The diagnosis meant that Cayde needed a double lung transplant, which required the Brannaman family to seek out the best medical care. In 2010, their journey led them from their home in Wyoming to the Texas Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House in Houston.
Besides the fact that the Ronald McDonald House allowed Cayde to start school and was located near the Children’s Hospital, the Brannaman family was drawn to the house because of one special resident—a Labradoodle dog named Mogie.
“When we brought Cayde back from the hospital, she was ready to just go home. She was not happy that we would be staying for months in Texas,” says Patricia Schutte, Cayde’s grandmother. “But it was Mogie who turned Cayde back into a smiling little girl again.”
RMH Houston Gets a Dog
Mogie joined the RMH Houston family in 2008 when he was 11 weeks old. Bringing a dog into the house was an initiative that Leslie Bourne, executive director of the Houston facility, felt strongly about. Bourne knew that many RMH families were separated from pets at home and would benefit from the comfort and companionship of a canine friend. “I’m a big animal advocate and our board is full of animal lovers, so it was an easy sell,” she says.
Bourne set out to find a Gooldendoodle because of the breed’s hypoallergenic properties and calm, intelligent and friendly personalities. She researched reputable breeders and connected with Lanie Smith of Lonestar Labradoodles. At the time, Smith’s son was a pediatric cancer patient at Texas Children’s Hospital and was familiar with RMH Houston’s mission. She jumped at the opportunity to help Bourne find the perfect dog for the house.
Mogie was one in a litter of eight, and Bourne and the rest of the RMH staff connected with him immediately. When Mogie was ready to head to his new life, Bourne enlisted the help of dog trainer Jim Burwell and a handful of staff members to train and care for the rambunctious little puppy.
Mogie’s Special Ability to Heal
Unlike many other dogs and animals that visit sick children in care facilities, Mogie isn’t a therapy dog. And that, says Bourne, is a very important distinction. “Therapy dogs are trained to stand or lie down so children can pet them. We wanted a dog that would play with the children,” she explains. “We’re a home away from home, so Mogie is the family dog.”
Mogie stays overnight at the house—which is staffed 24-hours a day—Monday through Thursday and goes home and rests at Bourne’s home on the weekends. But when Mogie is at RHM, he devotes all of his energy to making the children and parents experience a little bit of normalcy and whole lot of joy.
For Cayde, Mogie was a constant companion at RMH Houston. When Cayde arrived at the facility for the first time, she was just four years old, and Mogie was one. Schutte says that the connection between the little girl and the dog was immediate.
Since then, Mogie has been a highlight of Cayde’s multiple stays in Texas. When Cayde was recovering from her transplant surgery in the ICU at the Texas Children’s Hospital, she asked to see Mogie. And although the dog wasn’t allowed in the ICU, Bourne sent Cayde a video message of Mogie dancing to help cheer her up.
“These two have gotten the opportunity to do some very special things together,” says Schutte. “They have celebrated birthdays together, years together, major milestones like Cayde’s transplant and now lung anniversary together. Cayde talks to him and tells him all kinds of stories. And he just listens to her, almost like he understands her—and I believe he does.”
Bourne says Mogie’s special connection extends to parents, caregivers and the staff of the Ronald McDonald House as well. During times of uncertainty and stress, Mogie leans ups against adults and provides quiet company. “He calms people down,” says Bourne. “There will be a dad sitting on the edge of a couch with one hand on his computer or reading the newspaper, but instinctively his other hand is rubbing Mogie.”
Mogie’s Lasting Impression
Mogie has become an integral part of life at the Ronald McDonald House Houston, and Bourne believes that he makes patients and parents feel like they are living in a home away from home. “It’s a little bit of normalcy to see a dog. It makes it not so sterile and institutional,” she says. “He rolls over and lets them rub his tummy, he provides comfort to moms and dads. When I walk out and see that, it makes me feel like everything is okay.”
For Cayde, who is celebrating her two-year lung anniversary, Mogie remains a lifelong friend, who she looks forward to seeing every time she visits Houston. “After Caydence’s transplant, we seemed to fill a room at the Ronald McDonald House Houston more than at our own home,” says Schutte. “During that first year, they were there every step of the way. I cannot express what this house, its staff and volunteers—and that silly little dog Mogie—have done for our family.”