Recognizing that medical first responders are experiencing unrelenting stress as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fill hospitals to near capacity, Elite Detection K9 (EDK9), which breeds, raises and trains scent-detection dogs, found a way to bring some puppy love to these tireless and dedicated health care professionals.

EDK9 has about 50 puppies on its campus at any given time that are at various stages in their training. “We created the Puppy Furlough Program to enable hospital first responders to take a puppy home for the weekend to play with, experience some puppy love and, hopefully, help reduce some of the constant stress of caring for patients during the pandemic,” said Greg Guidice, president & CEO, Elite Detection K9. “The pups are energetic, high-drive Labrador Retrievers between the ages of three and seven months.”

The Puppy Furlough Program is currently operating at McLaren Oakland Hospital and St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital, both in Pontiac. Guidice has plans to extend the program to other hospitals in the metro Detroit area.

To participate in the Puppy Furlough Program, first responders at both hospitals need to fill out a form and choose the dates when they will be available to host a puppy. Once selected to participate, they are to arrive at EDK9’s headquarters in Rochester Hills on Friday to pick up the puppy and a bundle containing everything they will need to care for the pup: food, toys, leash, crate and care instructions. They are to return the puppy with its bundle on Sunday.

“Working in an acute hospital setting through two pandemic surges has been life altering for front-line staff and anyone feeling the impact of caring for the COVID population. The introduction of the Puppy Furlough Program for first responders was like a godsend of joy to our staff,” said Margaret Dimond, Ph.D., president & CEO, McLaren Hospital Oakland. “I have to admit, I signed up for the first weekend possible. The experience of having a young vibrant and energetic puppy in the house for a weekend allowed me to forget the stress of the past week and eased the anxiety of the upcoming week. It was like a mind refresher!”

Alisyn Vander Wal, DNP, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Emergency Services, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, said the Puppy Furlough Program is an awesome opportunity for front-line workers to relax during their time away from the hospital with a happy puppy to distract them from the stresses of working during the pandemic. “Many people love animals,” said Vander Wal. “And it’s been a great opportunity for staff to have a little informal pet therapy to provide some distraction over the weekend. This is especially true now, during the holidays, when people may not be seeing their families. The puppies provide much-needed love and companionship.”

“The Puppy Furlough Program is good for the puppies, too,” said Guidice. “They have a weekend in a completely new environment with new people and have to adapt socially to all of the different environmental stimuli. This type of socialization is an important part of their overall training.”

To learn more about Elite Detection K9 and the Puppy Furlough Program for first responders, please email