Hannah Banana works wonders for children at Devereux


Nancy Burden, the clinical manager at Devereux Day School in Viera, loves the rapport that Hannah Banana, a pet therapy dog, has developed with the children at Devereux.



Hannah Banana doesn't believe in days off.

The pet therapy dog at Devereux Viera Campus made a special visit on a Wednesday afternoon, a day before her usual Thursday work shift. The 11/2-year-old female Black Labrador was eager to greet all the children who passed by. She also was confused when she didn't enter any of the buildings to visit both old friends and new friends for some one-on-one cuddling.

Devereux Florida is a leading provider of services that address behavioral health, intellectual and developmental disabilities and child welfare for children and families in Florida. The Viera campus has had children ranging in age from 5 to a day before turning 19.

"I love pet therapy,'' said Nancy Burden, a licensed clinical social worker who has been the clinical manager at Devereux Viera Campus since June 2014 and an employee with Devereux since June 2012. "We've had Hannah since October and she's just really been amazing. When she's on the campus and walking around, she gets so much attention from the children.''

Burden, who earned her bachelor's degree in social work from Florida State University and her master's degree in social work from East Carolina University, looks forward to each Thursday when Lisa Duda brings her amiable dog to the school. Hannah Banana has made a positive impression on intellectually/developmentally disabled (I/DD) and neurotypical children.

"The young teens all want to see her, pet her and be around her,'' Burden said. "For I/DD children and children on the autism spectrum, Hannah Banana provides affection and an opportunity for them to have social interaction and an opportunity to nurture.''

Devereux's residents don't all come from Florida.

"What's more universally experienced than the relationship between a dog and a child?'' Burden said. "When kids from all over the country are separated from their family, Hannah can bring something from home to them. There are universal experiences where the children will talk about their pets at home or dogs that they used to have.''

This could lead to a breakthrough where treatment and counseling at other facilities might not have been successful.

"Hannah Banana seems to know how they're feeling,'' Burden said. "She interacts with her face and tail wagging and assigns emotion. It takes a special dog to go through the specialized training to do this type of work. We're really thankful that Lisa put this to the forefront to bring in the right dog with the right training to make sure that we were a right match. Hannah is trained to remain calm no matter the stimulation or if there is a lot of noise.''

Pet therapy also has been successful in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes throughout the country. Who wouldn't want to see Hannah Banana's happy face?

"I look forward to seeing Hannah every single week,'' Burden said. "She provides an intervention. I see a child transformed. It's not a child with a mental health diagnosis. It's not a child with a behavioral problem or a child that's not successful in school. They're just a child — a child who wants to hug
a dog.''