Puppy professor gets paws-itive reviews

The School of Dentistry’s newest faculty member is skilled at calming anxious patients. She just happens to be a dog.

Every day is “Take Your Pet to Work Day” for one pediatric dentist at Carolina.

That’s because Siggi Saemundsson’s two-year-old golden retriever, GRAYSON, isn’t just a pet — she’s also a full-time faculty member at the UNC School of Dentistry.

In addition to being the furriest faculty member in the department, GRAYSON has an essential job in the Koury Oral Health Science Building. As an assistance dog, she comforts young patients who are anxious about sitting in the dental chair.

“She brings such a ray of sunshine into the clinic,” said Saemundsson, program director for the pediatric dentistry graduate program. “Everybody — not just the patients, but the staff, the faculty, the students — everybody seems to be in a better mood. And I’m the lucky one. I get to take her home.”

As GRAYSON’s primary handler, Saemundsson worked with Wilmington-based organization paws4people to train GRAYSON for her role in the pediatric dentistry clinic, which sees nearly 10,000 patients every year. The pup celebrated her graduation from the training program last month and has been helping to care for young patients ever since.

“She is amazing,” Saemundsson said. “Kids just loosen up, kids start smiling, they start becoming comfortable in this setting.”

The pup has many unique talents, but perhaps her favorite on-the-job skill is hopping into the dentist’s chair with kids and comforting them by laying her head on their laps.

Jessica Lee, GRAYSON’s secondary handler and chair of pediatric dentistry, said GRAYSON makes the dental clinic feel like home to patients. When a child was crying while getting a tooth pulled, Lee said, GRAYSON walked right up to her to offer comfort, even without a command.

“She’s more remarkable than I thought she ever would be,” Lee said. “The response has been overwhelming. She has been able to do things I never thought a dog would be able to do.”

The faculty and staff love their canine colleague, as well, and are proud to be part of the first dentistry school to have a full-time facility dog as part of their team.

“GRAYSON helps us in so many ways,” Lee said. “She’s a part of our family.”