That’s why Dr. Tracy Taddey of La Jolla Dentist, located at 7946 Ivanhoe Ave., introduced Mona to her dental practice — a 10-pound, Chihuahua-dachshund mix who has earned the title of “dental therapist.”
Last April, Taddey went to Helen Woodward Animal Center with her mother on a whim. Not planning to adopt, they spent the afternoon idly observing the dogs up for adoption.
A small, blond dog caught Taddey’s eye. Rescued from a puppy mill in Los Angeles, the mutt was about a year old and had already had a litter of puppies. Taddey liked that the dog was so mellow and, being of Italian descent, she thought it was amusing the little dog had been named Mona.
She left the shelter without the pup, but returned the next day. Though there had recently been a large adoption campaign, Mona was still available, and Taddey, taking it as a sign, didn’t hesitate to bring her home.
“She was only a year old and had already been through so much,” said Taddey. “Her little life drama was something that attracted me to her. Shelter dogs are so grateful to get a loving home.”
Taddey decided she wanted a dog that could go everywhere with her, so she started bringing Mona to the dental office, where she practices with her father, Dr. John Taddey. When a nervous patient noticed the dog and asked if Mona could sit on the patient’s lap during a procedure, Taddey got an idea: She had heard of dogs being used in hospitals and doctors’ offices to calm patients and lift their spirits, and thought the same theory could be applied to dentistry.
“Nobody likes going to the dentist, but there’s something about having a little warm body on your lap that just relaxes you,” she said. “It really reduces the anxiety of the patients and helps turn their moods from a dreadful and anxious one to a happy one.”
Though Mona has been in her current role as a canine dental therapist for only seven months, about half of Taddey’s patients already ask for her assistance. When Mona’s presence is requested, Taddey puts a quilt (made for the dog by a grateful client) on the lap of the patient, where Mona curls up and takes a nap. Unfazed by the various sounds of a typical dentist’s office — the loathed drilling, scraping and aspirating — the little dog puts her patients at ease by being at ease herself, Taddey said.
“They see that she’s asleep and then they think, ‘Well, I guess I should just relax,’” said Taddey, adding that she did not train Mona, but that quietly napping on strangers’ laps comes naturally to the dog.
As for her clients, Taddey said she has never been reproached for having a hound in the office.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback. People ask for her,” Taddey said. “Anything we can do to lessen the anxiety of the patient and make it a better experience is great.”