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Open up and say 'arf' at Woodbury dentist's office

Molly the cocker spaniel recently joined dentist Brian Kraby's office on Weir Drive in Valley Creek Mall.

When a visitor entered Applewood Family Dental last week, the office's newest staff member bursted down the hallway to make an introduction.

Though they would later offer a warm welcome, the initial bearer of good tidings wasn't dentist Brian Kraby or his jack-of-all trades assistant Mary Reck. It was Molly, a 4-year-old cocker spaniel who is believed to be the first therapy dog working in a Minnesota dental office.

The dog, Reck said, "just lightens the whole mood" in the office.

Molly, who joined the staff in June, provides what Kraby and Reck said is a soothing presence for patients. If patients like, Molly will hop up on their laps and let them pet her while they're undergoing dental procedures.

Kraby said that's a welcome relief to some patients -- especially those would prefer to be anywhere but a dentist's chair.

"It gives their mind something to focus on other than themselves," he said.

At Applewood Family Dental, Molly is wiped down in between each patient and can be separated from the office if patients are allergic to her.

The idea for a therapy dog came from Reck, who owns Molly. She pitched Kraby on the concept shortly after the office opened in April, but the dentist took some time to warm to the idea.

That was until he took to the Internet and began researching other dental practices that had added therapy dogs to their offices. He didn't find many. Only a handful of dentists in Oregon, Illinois, North Carolina, California and New York were using therapy dogs at the time.

The image of a friendly golden retriever snuggled up to a child on a dentist's chair connected with Kraby -- along with a positive Internet buzz that seemed to surround the idea.

"There were a lot of people that seemed open to it," he said.

The result so far?

"We haven't heard a bad word yet," Kraby said. "(Patients) are like, 'Oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing.'"

He said that included a 5-year-old patient who, until June, hadn't given in to a teeth cleaning. That was until Molly plopped onto the boy's lap.

"I see it all the time," Reck said.

That's because therapy activities are old hat to Molly, who is registered through Pet Partners, the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program and has received high-level obedience training through All Breed Obedience Behavioral in Woodbury.

Over the years, Molly has worked as a therapy dog in hospitals, at women's shelters and through literacy programs, where the dogs' presence helps children overcome struggles with reading.

At Applewood dental, it's all about breaking down barriers, Kraby said, adding that he's happy to break new ground in Minnesota dentristry.

"Why hasn't anyone done this before?" he said. "We're not trained to think out of the box like this sometimes."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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