In a memorable September 2019 town hall, St. Jude employees met facility dogs Puggle and Huckleberry for the first time.
Alongside their respective handlers, Brittany Reed and Shandra Taylor of Child Life, they took the first steps of the fledgling St. Jude Paws at Play program as they strolled into a welcoming auditorium.
Since that time, the doggy duo has made a remarkable impact on the patient experience while also stepping up during the pandemic to assist with employee resilience efforts.
Puggle and Huckleberry will soon say goodbye to St. Jude as Reed and Taylor leave for new roles in North Carolina and California, respectively. Puggle and Huckleberry will use their knowledge and skills developed at St. Jude to continue to work with children in their new positions. While leaving St. Jude will be bittersweet, the dogs’ legacy in launching and growing the hospital’s facility dog program is immeasurable.
“It’s been incredible to bring facility dogs to St. Jude. It truly is memorable each day to see Puggle’s work firsthand. The magic he brings when a patient spots him in the hallway or he shares an elevator with a staff member is truly rewarding,” Reed said. “The program’s impact on patients, families and staff in our time here is so hard to capture in words or to measure. I cannot wait to see how it grows and continues to make a positive impact for our patients and families.”
Once the dogs began seeing patients, it wasn’t long before breakthrough moments began. Reed recalled Puggle’s efforts to provide comfort to a teenage girl who was approaching end-of-life care. Puggle’s work has allowed children to feel a sense of normalcy, to walk again after surgery, to celebrate the completion of therapy and many other important moments.
Taylor remembered Huckleberry’s work in assisting a young boy who often needed anesthesia while undergoing CT scans. Huckleberry instantly connected with the patient and walked with him into the scan room. Huckleberry rested his head on the scan table while the boy petted him. The child was able to get through the scan without sedation. Still, Taylor said the dogs’ first day of work and the employee town hall stands out in her mind.
“It was amazing to see how excited employees were about seeing the dogs for the first time,” Taylor said. “I will never forget that. But above all, what has been most important is supporting patients during some of their most challenging moments and celebrating their successes and milestones.”
The dogs’ successful work with patients and families—and also with employees—led to the expansion of the Paws at Play program earlier this year. Puggle and Huckleberry welcomed their new teammate, Rosalie, in September. Rosalie is dedicated to employee support efforts and will continue her daily work.
In spring 2022, St. Jude will receive two new facility dogs from Canine Assistants in Georgia, the training facility where Puggle, Huckleberry and Rosalie were raised.
Taylor and Huckleberry will leave St. Jude later this month while Reed and Puggle will depart St. Jude in early January. Before they say goodbye, the Paws at Play team will celebrate Huckleberry’s fourth birthday December 10 and the holiday season through their Elvis the Elf series on the St. Jude Paws Instagram account.
“Puggle and Huckleberry have laid the groundwork for the St. Jude Paws at Play Program,” said Shawn Brasher, Child Life Program director. “In tandem with their handlers, their work has positioned us for future success and has benefited the lives of so many patients and families.”