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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

Therapy Dogs Visit With Brightline Commuters In The Name Of Better Mental Health

Therapy dog Maggie, and her owner Ellen Springs, wait for Brightline passengers to come up the escalator on Tuesday evening.
Caitie Switalski
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Thursday is World Mental Health Day. It's recognized by the World Health Organization as a day to talk about mental health awareness, education, and to push for an end to the stigma that can sometimes surround asking for help. 

Brightline train stations have joined in on the advocacy - bringing in therapy dogs to spend time with commuters for a couple of days this week.

"Just makes my day much better, to be honest, I really appreciate it," Chris McGuire said. He works in Fort Lauderdale, and commutes every day from Miami by train. 

"Skyla's super cute, he said. "I might take her home with me."


Skyla is a 10 (and a half) year-old Black Lab lying belly-up on the floor of the station, getting petted. 

She's one of four therapy dogs who greeted travelers at the Fort Lauderdale station Tuesday afternoon in a visit organized by the nonprofit Canine Assisted Therapy. The animals will be on site too in all three Brightline stations on Thursday. 

"It keeps you in the moment," said Courtney Trzcinski, executive director of Canine Assisted Therapy, about interacting with therapy animals. "You're not stressing or worrying about something that's gonna happen or that has happened."

Read More: Meet The Therapy Dogs Helping Kids In Broward Read With More Confidence

A pug named Pebbles had that de-stressing effect for Jessica Cedeño. She works in a marina in Fort Lauderdale and catches the 5 a.m. train from Miami everyday. 

"At this time I'm so tired," she said. "So it could be fine for me to pet the dogs and relax."

Ben Porritt, Brightline's Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs,  explained why the private company wants to do more to promote mental health awareness:

"We know that, certainly, people in everyday life are struggling with mental health," Porritt said. "We want people to come in and to see that there's ways to get help and things that maybe they haven't explored before." 

For Skyla, that could be someone petting her until they catch their train. 


Commuter Chris McGuire pets therapy dog Skyla before his train departed from Fort Lauderdale To Miami Tuesday evening.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Commuter Chris McGuire pets therapy dog Skyla before his train departed from Fort Lauderdale To Miami Tuesday evening.

If you or someone you know is struggling or experiencing feelings of helplessness, you can call 2-1-1 Broward or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.