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Meet Rosalie: Facility dog to provide employee support

By Mike O'Kelly

Image of Golden Retriever

Rosalie joins the St. Jude Paws at Play program as part of the hospital’s expanded efforts to support employees.

The newest St. Jude employee has already landed in the doghouse. 

After a first day of work that included a morning photo session and a midday meeting with the CEO, the new hire settled in for a relaxing dog day afternoon.

Rosalie, a 60-pound golden retriever, joined St. Jude this week as a facility dog dedicated to supporting employees. Kimberly Russell, a St. Jude chaplain since 2013, will serve as the dog’s primary handler through the hospital’s Staff Resilience Center’s expanded efforts. Rosalie’s arrival was much anticipated by employees whose challenging work has become more demanding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rosalie joins the St. Jude Paws at Play program, which launched in 2019 with the arrival of Puggle and Huckleberry, who are both focused on patient care. Like her furry colleagues, Rosalie is a native and graduate of Georgia-based Canine Assistants. The staff at the school raise and train facility and service dogs for placement with individuals and health care organizations. They paired Rosalie, who celebrates her second birthday October 5, with St. Jude for a specific reason.

“They said her gift is loving people and being loved by them,” said Janet Sellers, manager of the Resilience Center who will serve as backup handler. “For this role in support and resilience, her sweet demeanor will make her easy to love. I think she will be quickly welcomed into our hospital family.”


A special name

Sellers and Russell spent last week at the Canine Assistants facility outside of Atlanta, to meet Rosalie and undergo several days of instruction. Rosalie is named for a young woman who was the recipient of a service dog from the school who has since died. The team from St. Jude met with her mother during their visit.

When Sellers asked the mother what she would want St. Jude staff to know about her daughter, she replied that the dog her daughter received gave her life and courage.

“In the Resilience Center, we talk about the meaning in our work and our connection to the mission. It’s even more special that Rosalie has a legacy and a meaning in the work that she does,” Sellers said.

First day at work

The week before Rosalie’s arrival, hospital employees attempted to guess her name, submitting more than 700 guesses to a series of four clues. Jennifer Brown of Internal Audit guessed Rosalie correctly first. St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, MD, welcomed Rosalie at a virtual town hall for employees.

“It is so nice to have a new addition to our Paws at Play program, and I think our employees are going to benefit greatly from spending time with Rosalie,” Downing said.

Photo of 3 dogs and their handlers

Pictured from left are St. Jude Paws at Play handlers Janet Sellers and Kimberly Russell (Rosalie); Ashley Carr and Brittany Reed (Puggle); and Shandra Taylor (Huckleberry).

At St. Jude

As Rosalie’s primary handler, Russell welcomes not only a colleague but a new family member into her home. While at work, the two will share an office—each one having their own cubicle.

As part of her work with employees, Rosalie will attend sessions with staff after events such as the loss of a patient or a colleague. She will also make rounds throughout the hospital, visiting clinical, research and administrative areas.

“A dog can create a safe space quickly and help people to open up a bit easier,” Russell said. “You’re able to be a little more vulnerable without feeling vulnerable and maybe able to start talking about some of the things that might be more difficult to discuss.”

Once Rosalie settles into her new role, staff members will be able to request appointments.

“She’s going to be a bright light at St. Jude,” Sellers said. “I think we’ve done everything to set her up for success to make sure she enjoys her first days among her new coworkers.”


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