BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Family members peeked their heads out of hospital rooms, and children scooted to the edges of their beds.
A dog was barking in the halls of Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital.
Word traveled quickly that Raising Cane II, the yellow Labrador who is the mascot for Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, was visiting patients.
AP Photo - - Gwen Graves, left, and Cane II visit Molly Glascock, 5, in her room at the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., Cane II is specially trained to be around children in a hospital room.
Cane is certified nationally at the highest level as a pet therapy dog through the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization based in Bellevue, Wash., that helps people incorporate therapy, service and companion animals into their lives.
Cane and owner/handler Gwen Graves, who is married to Raising Cane's restaurant founder Todd Graves, regularly visit sick and injured children at Our Lady of the Lake and at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
At Our Lady of the Lake in early December, the pair visited patients over several hours one night, including 2-year-old Richelle Acoff.
"Look the doggy," Richelle exclaimed, clapping her hands, when Cane entered her room. Richelle's mother, Ladasha Bolding, was pleased.
"It was amazing to see the smile on her face," she said of Richelle. "That was the happiest I've seen her."
Her daughter had been in the hospital for the past month, Bolding said, and was preparing for another surgery to repair her intestines, which were not properly formed at birth.
"She's getting there," Bolding said of her daughter's progress.
That same night, Cane climbed into bed and sat quietly while being petted by 5-year-old Molly Glascock.
"Feel her ear. It's real soft," Graves told the child.
Molly had been at Our Lady of the Lake for two days after a car accident.
"I think it's special that they take the time to do that and see the kids," said Molly's father, Andie Glascock Jr.
"She enjoyed that. She's been down all day, just got out of surgery. She needed that."
Graves said that's the reason she became interested in pet therapy.
"I felt like it was something simple I could do to bring a significant amount of happiness to people who are hurting or lonely," Graves said. "What I didn't realize was what a nice break it was for the doctors and nurses."
Graves explained that pet therapy involves taking an animal into a facility like a hospital or nursing home and engaging in one-on-one time with a patient or resident.
Sometimes, the animal just sits beside the person. Or, if the person is mobile, he or she might want to walk up and down the hall with the animal on a leash beside him.
Cane's certification is at the highest level complex, meaning she can go into any setting, including hospitals with badly injured people and around such sensitive equipment as IVs. Graves as the handler also is certified.
Being nationally certified also means Graves can take Cane to restaurant openings across the United States and visit children in hospitals there.
The Delta certification is a 12-hour hands-on class, Graves said. It is followed by an examination of handler and pet that lasts about 1-1/2 hours.
To participate in pet therapy, no special breed of dog is required, Graves said. "You need to have an animal with the right temperament," she said.
"She has some spunk, but she knows when to be calm," Graves said of Cane.
As part of the certification process, Cane's temperament was put to the test.
She was exposed to loud noises the testers dropped bowls and other objects on the floor to see how the dog would react, Graves said.
They also yelled, and walked her down a hallway with people in wheelchairs coming at her. The testers even tugged her tail lightly to surprise her and test her reaction, Graves said.
"It's just something I've always wanted to do," Graves said. "I knew with Cane's sweet personality she would do really well with it."
When getting started four years ago, Graves contacted Tiger H.A.T.S. (Human Animal Therapy Services), a community organization sponsored by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.
Graves and Cane completed the national certification one year ago.
Then, they started out visiting patients at nursing homes. Now, they primarily visit children.
"I hope that they're excited," Graves said of the children she and Cane visit.
"There's nothing better than if you walk into a room, they're hooked up to an IV, you have no idea what they've been through, and their eyes light up. It puts them in more of a calm or happy or comforted state of mind," she said.