Working in professional sports can put a strain on one's mental and physical health, but that's where Bailey, a 23-month Mini Bernedoodle, comes in! This black and white dog is the NBA's only trained and registered emotional support dog for the Dallas Mavericks.
Bailey spends most of her time with assistant athletic trainer Heather Mau, but is best friends with everyone on the team. "Do I feed Bailey too much? I don't think so," guard Josh Green said. "She does a lot for the team. She's one of our teammates. She's always there for me, so I bring extra breakfast every morning."
Only one other team, the San Francisco 49ers, in any North American Professional Sports League has an emotional support dog on staff. She not only is there on off days and training days, but she is there for everyone on game day as well.
She arrived in April of 2022 at the young age of just eleven weeks old, and the players were able to vote on her name. "She's a fixture," Mavericks Governor (owner) Mark Cuban describes. "Bailey is like the little love child of the Dallas Mavericks. Guys love having her in the locker room. It's a calming effect. Everybody wants a little love from a puppy, so it's great."
She is having a huge effect on the mental health of the team. "She's been amazing," said Don Kalkstein, the Mavericks' director of mental skills and mental health. "It's like having another mental health consultant in our department. I'm not even kidding. She's very valuable."
The Mavericks are known for being at the forefront of pro sports in prioritizing mental health of players. They were the first team to hire a full-time Mental Skills Director. Mau was hired in 2019 and began the discussions about having a mental health dog on the team. Players had sometimes brought their dogs into the training facility and their effect was clear.
"We saw how much happier the guys were when they were around dogs. The conversation became a little more serious after that," Mau described. In 2021, Nico Harrison was hired at General Manager and President and urged team members to make the Mavericks the most cutting-edge team and think outside the box. Mau requested a meeting to detail the benefits of a mental health dog and took on the challenge of convincing Harrison, known not to be a "dog-person".
"Nico didn't ask too many questions because I'd thought about all of it. I said: 'I have a dog in mind; this is what she looks like; this is why I chose this breed specifically," Mau said. She also mentioned how the 49ers had a similar dog. "After I explained all the logistics, Nico was like 'Yeah. All right. Let's do it,' " Mau recalled.
When Bailey arrived, she made an immediate impact. "They loved her," Mau said. "Everybody just wanted to cuddle her." Mini Bernedoodles are known to be intelligent, highly trainable, and social. She was trained at Dallas' Bevill Dog Behavior School.
Within the facility, Bailey knows her boundaries and is allowed to roam within them all. "She walks around like she owns the place," Green said. "She's very spoiled." Mau says that three other NBA teams have reached out about the program and how to best implement it within their own teams. Bailey is an amazing reminder of the power of man's best friend!
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