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Little old dog plays very big role in Bay Area dental practice

Dogs are amazing adaptable creatures. They enrich our lives in many ways, including easing our stress and lifting our moods. When you're a dog person, even if you haven't been around a dog since childhood, engaging and handling one can transport you to a place of familiarity and comfort.

Enter Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and a stray Papillon from the streets of Hayward, California scooped up in September...

When a dog at Muttville gets adopted their new life often starts with a different name, in addition to a new home, as part of the matchmaking process. In the case of Babs, the Papillon, her name changed after she was adopted by Dr. Garrett's mother, and then again after Dr. Garrett moved her mom into an assisted living home and Babs took on the role of dental comfort dog.

Here's a special interview with Bay Area dentists, Dr Cameron T Garrett DDS and Debra Garrett RDH who realized a little old dog could play a very big role in their dental practice.

Karma, making dental patients happier

They tell us repeatedly that having Karma there makes the whole dental experience that much better.


Never underestimate the power of karma, or Karma, to ease your fears at the dentist


First, how is your mom doing? My mom is in decline regarding Alzheimer's. She is now living in New Jersey at an assisted living facility with lots of family nearby. She is still longing for the companionship of a dog but can not safely care for a dog. I don't understand why these facilities don't have a dog that the residents can walk and shower love and affection on. A dog would be such an asset at an assisted living facility and all of the care needs could easily be managed with very little effort.

How did you decide on changing Babs name to Karma? Karma went through several name changes. She was Babs at Muttville but her foster family called her Oatmeal. When my mom got her, she named her Gloria. When I got her, I brought her to work and showed her to the other people in our building complex. Our lab man was petting her and said to my husband, Cameron "This dog needs a good home. Karma, Cam. Karma!" We felt we could use some good Karma so we re-named her Karma.

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Babs, before she became Karma

You originally got Karma for your mom, but how did you learn about Muttville? I had seen posters for Muttville at the Pet Food Express store while buying food for our three cats. My husband also saw advertisements on SF Giants baseball broadcasts.

How long has Karma been in her new role? I got Karma from my mom on a Thursday night Oct 8, 2015 and she came to work with me and my husband Friday morning. She's been coming ever since. Our patients starting asking us if they could hold her and we very quickly realized the wonderful response she was creating.

Any surprises from her or patients? We were somewhat surprised at the number of our patients who truly love having her in the office

How does Karma tolerate the sounds of drills? Karma is completely unfazed by the sound of the drill or of the ultrasonic scalers we use during cleanings.

Has she jumped off a patient in the middle of a procedure? She has never jumped off a patient but if she seems restless at all, we put her back in her dog bed. We don't want anything to jeopardize her safety or the safety of our patients. It rarely happens but we want Karma to feel free to be on someone's lap or not if she doesn't want to be. She tends to sleep a lot but sometimes she has more energy and wants to move around more.

Have you seen a reduction in patients asking for Novocaine or sedatives because of Karma being available? My husband almost always uses local anesthesia. Karma has helped many dental phobic people get through that phase of treatment more comfortably. I have been phasing out the use of nitrous and Karma has helped in that regard. We also have a large number of patients who are not dental phobic but thoroughly enjoy holding Karma. They tell us repeatedly that having Karma there makes the whole dental experience that much better.
Karma, the tiny dental assistant

Where is your practice? Have you seen an increase in new patients because of Karma? Our practice is in Corte Madera, next to Pete's coffee. I don't really know if we've gotten more patients because of Karma. I do know that she has made our existing patients even happier coming to us!

Has anyone asked you if they could adopt Karma from you, or asked where she came from? Patients have frequently told us they would love to take Karma home with them. She is our little princess and we would NEVER give her up. She has been our therapy dog as well both at home and at the office. She has brought us so much joy and contentment. This past year has been amazing with her. We put an information sheet in our waiting room telling about Karma and how we got her from Muttville. We are very grateful to Muttville and think Karma is a prime example of the great work they do saving senior dogs who still have so much to give.

Given her popularity, do you see yourself having a therapy dog like Karma part of your practice from now on? Absolutely! I'm trying not to think about the day Karma is no longer with us but this experience has been so positive. We have already discussed future adoptions through Muttville. We feel that we would have the best shot at truly knowing what we would be taking on by going through Muttville. They do the most comprehensive exams and treatment before adopting out their rescued dogs.

Do you let patients give Karma treats during procedures or after? What are her favorites given she has no teeth? No treats from our patients. We feed Karma high quality food and want to maintain her health as best we can. Since we can't seem to resist giving her treats ourselves, it would be too much if patients gave hair treats as well. I also worry about her swallowing food since she doesn't have any teeth to chew! We share tidbits of our lunch as she really enjoys her "daddy's" cooking

Do you help in Karma’s dental hygiene or does she see a special veterinary dental hygienist? We don't feel qualified to treat or diagnose Karma so we bring her to our family vet.

How many patients on average ask for Karma to be with them on any given day? Will you start charging extra for her assistance in the near future? Karma goes to work primarily on Tuesdays & Thursday's 10-7 and two Fridays a month from 9-1. Sometimes I do temp work in other offices on Wednesday and Karma goes to work with her "daddy" dentist from 8-5. The more patients who meet her, the more patients request her. Several people a day like to hold her. Last week, 7 out of 8 of my patients wanted to hold her. It is first come, first served as long as Karma is ok with it. Some patients are just happy to see her in her little bed next to the dental chair. We would NEVER charge for Karma. It's all about a win/win. She loves people and really enjoys being held and a nice warm place to sleep. The patients feel better holding her. It's all about good Karma!

Thanks to Karma, have you found yourself referring others to Muttville or to seeing the benefits of older dogs in general? We are so very grateful to Muttville for saving Karma and all of the great work they have done and continue to do. Karma is the perfect dental office therapy dog BECAUSE of her age. She is happy to fall asleep or lie quietly in someone's lap. She wants short walks. She isn't fazed by loud noises. She is very predictable in her behavior. She is tried and true! A younger dog would probably not work nearly as well Karma has shown us how much love, affection and joy an older dog can bring to our lives and we don't take any of it for granted since we are more aware of not knowing how much time we will get with Karma. We want everyone to know how great it is to have a senior dog and to support Muttville. There is no other adoption agency like them and from a practical sense, people are not likely to find other dogs for adoption who have been as thoroughly examined. A family has the best chance at really knowing what they are getting both personality and health wise. We are certain to make sure any patient who asks, knows what a wonderful organization Muttville is and all of the benefits of adopting a senior dog

Thank you for your work in getting the message out!

Dr Cameron T Garrett DDS
Debra Garrett RDH

Being able to rescue an old dog wandering the streets, and not only give them a home but a chance to live their remaining days with purpose is a meaningful role for a rescue, and for the adopter.  Never underestimate how a senior dog can enrich your life, as you sweeten theirs.

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