Who is cute, cuddly and happy to be at St. Jude?
Snuggle and CC, of course!
Since arriving April 18 as full-time employees, the hospital’s newest facility dogs have been working with certified, trained handlers to help meet clinical needs for child life and psychology intervention.
Born on October 15, 2019, golden retriever Snuggle came from a litter with the naming theme of “cleaning,” and she was named after the fabric softener brand. She has a warm personality that has won the hearts of her primary handler Amy Kennedy and secondary handler Jennifer Smith, both Child Life specialists in the Child Life Program.
“Snuggle is extremely friendly and loves everyone,” Smith said. “She likes to play, and her favorite toy right now is a stuffed unicorn. When we play fetch, she runs up and does a cute pounce right before she gets it. She enjoys treats, and her go-to is Goldfish crackers.”
CC—short for Chocolate Chip—came from a litter with the naming theme “Dunkin Donuts.” The amiable golden retriever born on December 10, 2020, works with her primary handler Shawn Brasher, Child Life director, and secondary handler Elyse Heidelberg, PsyD, clinical psychologist.
“Elyse got CC a donut dog toy the night before we met her, not even knowing the theme!” Brasher said. “CC is energetic, smart, loves to learn new tricks and likes to be helpful.”
Treating patients with love
Brasher said CC helped a 2-year-old patient who was uncomfortable taking medication. To model the process of taking medication, CC took some water from an oral syringe and then licked a lollipop to get rid of the “not so good” taste. She also played with the blood pressure cuff, stethoscope and other medical supplies from a play doctor kit to make the patient more comfortable when seeing this equipment.
CC also has helped co-treat a teenage patient using music therapy, another program for which Brasher serves as director. During a dressing change, the patient was able to pet CC who sat in a chair beside the bed. The repetition of petting the dog was calming for the patient. Music therapist Lizzie Digiovanni of Leukemia/Lymphoma and Hematology also played music in the background and encouraged the patient to do breathing exercises. The teen’s nurses and Digiovanni said this was one of the best dressing changes the patient had experienced.
“Our services equip patients to have the tools they need to get through tough medical situations and creating comfortable environments through tactile and auditory experiences helps our patients utilize coping skills,” she said.
Another of CC’s shining moments has been working alongside a physical therapist to co-treat a school-age hematology patient who was experiencing pain and challenges with mobility. CC’s support helped motivate the patient to walk the inpatient hallway. The patient also gained the confidence to bend down and pick up a ball to play fetch with CC.
Teen patients can be fearful when talking with a Child Life specialist about a diagnosis, treatment plans and all things “hospital.” To help alleviate this fear, CC has often gone into teens’ inpatient rooms to lie down on the bed and relax with the patients during these conversations.
“We have also had several new patient visits or transitions to the BMT unit for extended period/adjustment visits,” Brasher said. “CC has provided that little normative experience that helped the patient feel like a regular kid or teen.”
As I walk with her throughout the hospital, it is truly amazing to watch the reactions—CC almost always brings a smile.
Secondary handler Heidelberg said CC has completed several inpatient and outpatient psychology consults and follow-ups, interacting with patients from 2 to 21 years old. During one outpatient consult, CC played cars with a young patient, stopping the cars with her paw and nudging the cars with her nose to help distract the patient while parents described challenging aspects of the patient’s treatment course.
In the absence of distraction through play with CC, the patient might have otherwise been distressed as parents provided history relevant to referral for new onset anxiety. CC is also a supportive presence during inpatient consults as patients describe their medical experiences, including initially learning of diagnosis and challenging aspects of treatment. One patient who described feeling nervous most of the time since arriving to St. Jude visibly calmed during interaction with CC.
“CC has been a fantastic addition to the Psychology Clinic,” Heidelberg said. “While she only sees patients for clinical encounters alongside me as her handler, she makes frequent trips to our waiting room to say hello and gets lots of visits from patients, families and Psychology Department faculty and staff outside my office door. As I walk with her throughout the hospital, it is truly amazing to watch the reactions—CC almost always brings a smile.”
Lending a helping paw
Like CC, Snuggle has settled right into her role at St. Jude, jumping paws first into opportunities to comfort patients as they face challenging aspects of their treatment.
Snuggle was a huge diversion when Smith talked with a patient about his journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment, amputation and preparation for additional treatment. Smith said the patient enjoyed taking Snuggle for a walk to the playroom and doing ink paw prints with her as well.
Snuggle also won the heart of an ICU patient who has been experiencing an intensive, extended admission. Smith said the patient has limited mobility due to medical care needed at bedside. Snuggle got up in the bedside chair and reached out a helping paw, so the patient could pet her. Smith said Snuggle’s gesture made both the patient and her parents smile. Snuggle and the patient also connected through a paw print and handprint activity.
Kennedy said she and Snuggle met with a 6-year-old patient who was having difficulty coping and complying with vitals. Snuggle was able to help calm the patient to comply not only with getting vitals but also with changing into his hospital gown and engaging in normalizing play.
“I focused on Snuggle needing to learn about vitals and gave the patient a role in helping Snuggle,” Kennedy said. “I also provided the patient with control when deciding which hospital pajamas he and Snuggle would wear, and he helped Snuggle put hers on.”
Snuggle also provided emotional support to a patient that has been struggling with a second diagnosis including intensive surgery and treatment.
“The patient was able to pet Snuggle and have a very therapeutic conversation about missing home, missing his own dog, and what he likes to do when he is not at the hospital,” Smith said. “Snuggle was a nice comfort while the patient talked about everything he is going through.”
Snuggle also has provided a sense of calm for patients as they undergo blood draws, port accesses and CT simulations. Kennedy said when Snuggle was still orienting to the hospital, she encountered a 10-year-old boy in the hall. While he was engaging with Snuggle, the patient was called back to the leukemia clinic for a blood draw. His mother shared that he had previously struggled with needle sticks.
“Snuggle and I walked with him to clinic, and he helped ‘orient’ Snuggle to blood draws,” Kennedy said. “Snuggle sat at his feet while the nurse was drawing his blood. His mother said he returned to baseline faster than he normally does because he focused his attention on engaging with Snuggle.”
Snuggle also has provided emotional support during several young adult and teen group sessions. Smith said the golden retriever has joined the young adult group for an outside visit and for a Starbucks get-together.
“They enjoyed meeting Snuggle, and it seemed like a good way to meet other patients,” she said.
Gaining a furry friend—or two
Snuggle and CC’s arrival to the Paws at Play team also has been a special time for Rosalie, a golden retriever who began her staff resilience support duties at St. Jude in September 2021. Rosalie works with her primary handler Kimberly Russell, St. Jude staff support chaplain, and secondary handler Janet Sellers, manager of the Staff Resilience Center.
For more on Snuggle, CC and Rosalie’s furtastic adventures, follow their account on Instagram @stjudepaws.