This week, staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital welcomed their two newest colleagues, who walked through the doors on four furry legs. Huckleberry, a Golden Doodle, and Puggle, a Golden Retriever, are the newest hires of the Child Life department as part of a newly launched St. Jude Paws at Play facility dog program.
St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, M.D., introduced Huckleberry and Puggle—along with their primary Child Life handlers Shandra Taylor and Brittany Reed—to staff at a special Town Hall held in the Marlo Thomas Center on Sept. 16. An avid dog fan, Downing has been an enthusiastic and early supporter of the program, suggested by Child Life and the Patient and Family Experience office.
“At St. Jude, we work to ensure patients and their families have the best experience possible while at the hospital,” said Downing. “The Paws at Play dogs will help children by offering therapeutic support, giving unconditional acceptance and providing motivation through social interaction. The program is a natural fit with our philosophy of making every day the best day possible.”
This is the first time St. Jude has participated in service dog programming in the hospital. Because St. Jude patients often have weakened immune systems, departments teamed to create new policies for the program. Among their workday duties, the dogs will help patients achieve clinical goals as well as provide social interaction, stress reduction and sensory stimulation.
The dogs join nineteen full-time child life specialists working at St. Jude. The departmental goal of Child Life is to help children cope with the challenges of health care and hospitalization. Their services are offered to all families in all clinical areas.
“I am most excited to see the powerful effect that a dog will have on our patients,” said child life specialist Brittany Reed. “We hope to provide emotional support and do things like motivating children to get out of bed and walk after surgeries or helping to prepare patients for surgeries by helping with non-sedated scans.”
Based on interactions and needs, the hospital dogs will see an average of four to six patients a day, with plenty of rest breaks in between.
Huckleberry and Puggle were trained by Canine Assistants, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has trained service dogs since 1991 and has placed dogs in hospitals for more than 10 years. The dogs were specially matched with their St. Jude Child Life handlers.
“Canine Assistants trains these dogs from the time they are eight weeks old to be placed in hospitals,” said Child Life program director Shawn Brasher. “Their training is a bond-based approach, which recognizes the importance of a secure attachment as the most effective way to ensure goals of safety, effectiveness and well-being of the dogs.”
Puggle and Huckleberry will have lots of bonds at St. Jude, and especially with their handlers. When Puggle and Huckleberry are not at work, they live at their primary handlers’ houses, relaxing and playing with other members of the family.
The work day of Huckleberry and Puggle will be featured on Instagram: @stjudepaws.