MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Otis Chatham just celebrated his second birthday, but he already has a volunteer assignment at Regional One Health that comes with his own photo ID badge.

The highly-trained Bernese Mountain dog delights staff and patients alike as he makes his rounds at the hospital, visiting inpatient rehabilitation patients working toward increasing their mobility by petting, brushing or engaging in gentle play with him.

“Dogs can assist with therapy, whether you’re rolling over into the bed or bending down to pet the dog or play fetch,” said Savannah Seeley, physical therapist at Regional One Health. “Those are very functional things you can do within assisted therapy with patients. It can help with range of motion, strength building, standing tolerance and balance.”

Watching patients’ joyful reactions to this friendly, fluffy, blue-eyed boy leaves little doubt that Otis’ presence also boosts their mental health by releasing happy hormones that lower anxiety and stress levels.

“I know there’s a lot of research about animal-assisted therapy and how it can mentally and physically help with things like decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and releasing chemicals in your body that help you calm down,” Seeley said.

Handler Amy Chatham said Otis is her first Bernese Mountain dog – a breed known for being placid and easy-going.

“Calmness is mainly why I chose him for this work,” she said. “He doesn’t get upset by noises. Alarms could go off, somebody could drop a tray, and he stays calm. And I think that’s important for the patients to see him so calm. It encourages lower blood pressure and heart rate.”

Chatham has raised several golden retrievers, a breed known for high energy and a puppy-like demeanor that can last several years into adulthood.

“I knew I wanted to do therapy work, and I started doing some research,” said Chatham, who volunteers her time alongside Otis. “I’ve had Golden Retrievers, and they make great therapy dogs – when they’re about three, because they’re so hyper. But these dogs are born like this. And I wanted to fast track, so I went and got him.”

She traveled to an Amish farm in Southern Illinois, where Otis was born into a family of working dogs and was trained early on to follow commands. His parents still work on the farm.

After settling into his new home in the Memphis area, Otis received additional training with Lisa Harrison, a training advisor and evaluator with Mid-South Therapy Dogs, and became certified just after his first birthday last year.

Otis has been meeting patients like Erica McClinton of Holly Springs, Mississippi, who recently met him during her month-long stay at Regional One Health’s Rehabilitation Hospital, which provides comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation.

She was airlifted there by helicopter after being injured in a serious car wreck that killed her friend, who was driving.

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“I’ve been dealing with a lot – not knowing how to get up and do everything on my own and having everything be brought to me,” McClinton said. “But as time goes by, I’ll learn how to get my legs healthy and stronger and get back to doing everything on my own.”

McClinton has been working with Seeley to regain her strength by engaging in physical therapy from her wheelchair.

“They actually take good care of me, and my therapist makes sure I’m learning everything so that when I go home, I know exactly what to do,” McClinton said.

That includes gentle mobility exercises, like petting Otis.

“When I knew Otis was coming, I was thinking about what patients who might benefit from animal-assisted therapy,” Seeley said. “Any time Erica wants to move or reach for something, she’s challenging her base of support, as well as getting the psychological and mental benefits of animal interaction.”

Although he’s new to Regional One, Otis is clearly already a favorite, judging by the crowds of smiling faces gathered in the halls, eager to meet him.

Otis seems to have this effect on humans wherever he goes. His photo recently made the volunteer appreciation board at his other gig in the Memphis Medical District, over at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“As soon as he can figure out what you want, he wants to do it,” Chatham said. “Otis just wants to please.”