Koda The Fluff: Therapy dog bringing smiles fur miles in Central Florida

Some of the best ideas happen in the spur of the moment and sometimes they don’t seem like much at the time.

When Jena McKinstry decided to put her 7-year-old Pomeranian, “Koda The Fluff,” in a toy car she couldn’t have realized the impact it would have on others.

It turns out a tiny dog in a battery-powered car is a recipe for smiles.

Through the power of social media, those smiles have been shared worldwide, creating a unique form of pet therapy.

“I was out shopping one day,” McKinstry said. “And I saw this car on display. I said ‘Oh my gosh she would fit in that and it would be so cute.’”

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So McKinstry purchased the toy and had it for about four months before she decided to make a few videos with Koda driving around the house and in her driveway. That’s when she noticed people pulling their cars over so they could take photos with Koda.

“I said ‘This is something. This isn’t just me enjoying this. Other people really like this,’” McKinstry said.

“She’s like a little marshmallow. That’s why we call her ‘The Fluff,’” McKinstry said.

McKinstry started posting her videos under the Koda The Fluff account. First simple shots of her riding in the house. Then she started taking Koda out to businesses.

Koda rides around in her red convertible. McKinstry calls it a “Fur-rrari.” The tiny dog wears sunglasses and a cup holder attached to the car holds a “pup-uccino” coffee.

“It’s different, you’ve probably never seen a dog rolling in a convertible with the radio blaring oldies,” McKinstry said.

Others agree. Koda has developed a worldwide following.

“I really love her on social media because she can impact millions of people and make their day better,” McKinstry said. “We can only visit a limited amount of people but through her videos, we can impact the world. She has followers on every continent.”

Two years ago, McKinstry had plans to train Koda for pet therapy but the pandemic put that on hold when hospitals couldn’t allow visitors and volunteers inside.

But those videos gave people a reason to smile during tough times.

Soon, Koda The Fluff was visiting schools, first responders and eventually hospitals where she now makes regular appearances as a certified therapy pet.

Kim Bissing, Pet Therapy manager for Orlando Health, said Koda has added a unique take to the program.

“You can’t help but smile when you see Koda coming down the hallway,” Bissing said. “Nobody steers away from these guys when they come through.”

Bissing said pet therapy is proven to lower blood pressure and increase endorphins in people in hospital settings.

“We had to get really creative during COVID. We had a no-touch protocol,” Bissing said.

Koda created a unique opportunity to make a difference from a distance. Because she’s in a car she’s able to roll by people’s rooms and make them happy without getting too close. A no-contact experience.

“She’s a naturally calm dog and I’ve worked with her a ton,” McKinstry said.

Koda has even made special personal appearances by request. That’s how she met Cole and Darla Podliski. The two had been following Koda’s social media feed.

“They were so adorable. They are so sweet and Cole had been sick again with bad bronchitis and a sinus infection,” Darla Podliski said, explaining that her 15-year-old son was having a tough time. “He was missing out on so much at school and he had just started.”

So Podliski reached out to McKinstry and said it would make Cole’s day if Koda were to visit.

“They came to our home and brought him a balloon and some candy. Koda was in her little red car interacting with Cole. It meant the world to him,” Darla Podliski said. “We also just lost our dog and it helped him a lot that day.”

The visit made such an impression, that Darla Podliski nominated McKinstry and Koda for the News 6 Getting Results Award.

“The joy she brought Cole, who was so bummed about missing so much. The therapeutic value she’s bringing so many people. It needed to be recognized,” she said.

McKinstry and Koda have also worked with police departments on driver safety education and awareness

McKinstry said her social media feed is often full of advertisements and other things that just don’t always make her happy. She wanted to contribute something positive.

She calls it digital pet therapy.

“Koda is out there and her only purpose is to bring happiness,” McKinstry said. “If you’re in the hospital, something is going on with you or a loved one. So to be able to see a positive distraction and have a pet roll in that’s just something to give you a mental break from whatever you are dealing with. That’s incredible, very impactful.”

McKinstry hopes to expand on the concept through her nonprofit, Smiles Fur Miles.

McKinstry is encouraging others with well-behaved dogs to participate in pet therapy.

“It’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” McKinstry said. “I’m always encouraging people to get into pet therapy. It’s such a good program. There’s nothing more rewarding than just focusing on making other people happy.”

Those interested can find more information and apply for the pet therapy program at OrlandoHealth.com

There is no charge to request an appearance by Koda the Fluff. McKinstry asks that you visit Koda the Fluff’s Facebook page, or website: www.KodaTheFluff.com

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