Meet Loki, the Therapy ‘Dogtor’ Donating Hero Healing Kits to Frontline Workers
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, medical student Caroline Benzel and her dog Loki are giving back to the people who helped them when they needed it most.
When Loki, a rottweiler, needed surgery on her doggy ACL (CCL), Benzel was prepared to sell her car to pay for the procedure. She had been volunteering at the University of Maryland Medical System and when workers there found out about Loki's condition, they stepped up and raised the funds necessary for the surgery.
When the pandemic hit, Benzel was doing virtual therapy dog visits with Loki and saw the damage that was happening to frontline workers' skin and faces from wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for extended periods of time.
"I wanted to repay the favor and do something for them after they had helped me in my time of need," she says. Thus, Dogtor Loki's Hero Healing Kits were born.
Becoming Dogtor Loki
Loki, 3, joined Benzel less than a week after she was accepted into medical school at the University of Maryland. Loki was from a litter of 11 in Baltimore. Family friends adopted Loki and her brother, the two remaining pups in the litter. They originally went for just one puppy, but they couldn't leave the other behind alone.
Benzel found out the family had gotten two rottweilers and thought they had done so intentionally. "I basically called them as a joke saying, 'If you ever want to give one away, let me know,'" she says. The family gave her Loki the next day when she was only 10 weeks old.
Loki started "seeing patients" when she was 2. She is trained to stop panic attacks, recognize fainting, help people in wheelchairs, and understand hand signals for all of her tasks (helpful for when she's around individuals who are sound-sensitive or don't talk).
Loki is no regular therapy dog. When she visits the hospital, she comes ready with a personalized lab coat, "dogtor" badge, and even accessorizes with a custom scrub cap in her signature watermelon print.
Hero Healing Kits
Benzel is currently a full-time medical student only a year away from becoming a doctor. When COVID-19 hit, all of the medical students were sent home from the University of Maryland Medical System hospitals. "At that point in my career, I was not someone who could be on the front lines helping people out," she says. "It was hard to be pulled from our classes at the hospital and not be able to do anything."
Inspired by her coworkers on the front lines, Benzel started to gather items for care packages for first responders—specifically choosing items for frontline workers who were working long hours in PPE. She included hypoallergenic lotion, Chapstick, mini Vaseline packs, tea, coffee, snack bars, and Gold Bond powder to reduce rashes and redness.
Each Dogtor Loki Hero Healing Kit also includes a thank you note with a photo of Loki. "Loki is the face of the whole operation," Benzel says.
Loki has accompanied Benzel on many of the local kit deliveries. They started by dropping the kits at a nearby outdoor location because people weren't allowed into the hospitals. "Everyone always appreciated seeing Loki," she says. The frontline workers were always overwhelmed by how the kits were put together with each item purposefully chosen.
At the beginning, Benzel paid for much of this initiative herself. She also solicited donations from her neighbors by spreading the word on their neighborhood listserv. "It spread like wildfire, and they were able to raise money for the first 500–1,000 kits," she says.
She started with hefty donations to the hospital where she is doing rotations, and the hospital has distributed the kits to the other 12 hospitals in their system. Maryland police officers and firefighters also received kit donations and a visit from Loki. Kits even made their way to night shift workers at a hospital in California.
As Benzel and Loki's cause gained national media attention, the donations and support came rolling in. People have reached out asking how they can start up hero healing kits in their area. Benzel shared lists of the items included in their kits and explanations for each product. She created an Amazon wish list that allows people to support from afar.
To date, Benzel believes they've raised and received over $80,000 and donated over 7,500 kits.
Awards and Accolades
The hero healing kits campaign has grown Benzel and Loki's Instagram following to over 14,000 fans. Benzel regularly shares heartwarming photos of Loki with health care workers, hilarious memes of Loki, and all the photos of Loki in her dogtor gear you could ever want.
Loki has earned her fair share of credit thanks to the hero healing kits. In April 2020, she was named Good Morning America's Pet of the Week. She received the American Kennel Club Paw of Courage Award and the American Rottweiler Club's Heroism Award.
Most recently, Loki was honored at the American Medical Center's 2020 Top Dog Gala. Previous honorees include President George H.W. Bush's former service dog Sully and retired U.S. Secret Service K-9 Hurricane.
"Loki herself brings so much light and joy to people at the hospital," Benzel says.