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Paws at Play: A Message from Puggle

Meet the hospital’s newest employees.

By Puggle (made pawsible by Mike O’Kelly); Photos by Justin Veneman

Monday mornings are ruff. It’s cold and raining when my mom, Brittany, turns on the light to awaken me. But as much as I’d like to sleep, there’s important work to do.

My pal Huckleberry and I work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the new St. Jude Paws at Play program. We make the day a little easier for patients—whether helping them relax during procedures, demonstrating how to take medicine or climbing on a mock scanner to show them MRIs aren’t scary.

Brittany is my primary handler, and I live at her house. She’s a Child Life specialist on the inpatient Solid Tumor and Neuro-Oncology unit. Huckleberry and his handler, Shandra, visit kids in Diagnostic Imaging and the H Clinic.

Paws of Purpose

Huckleberry and I were born to do this job. We’re both 2 years old. I like to remind him that I’m older—by 18 days. Before we joined St. Jude, we lived at a service dog school, where we began our training when we were 4 days old.

I remember the day Huckleberry and I met our St. Jude handlers. They cried  tears of joy when they met us. Huckleberry and I don’t really cry, but we do wag  our tails a lot. Our tails wagged a lot that day. And guess what? I rode in an airplane on my way to Memphis. I even got to look out the window. Sorry about the nose prints.

Working Like a Dog

Mondays are bath day for Huckleberry and me. Afterward, I lie on my fluffy bed in an office in the Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy unit. That’s where Ashley works. I sometimes make visits with her since she’s my secondary handler.

My first patient today is a 9-year-old girl. I join the girl and her family for a walk around the fifth floor of the Kay Research and Care Center. We look out the windows at a rainforest of more than 1 million sequins—an art display on the side of the buildings. The wind rustles the sequins to create a rippling effect. It reminds me of my hair blowing in the wind when I chase my favorite red ball.

Puggle with patient Cassidy

Canine clinician: As part of his daily duties, Puggle spends time with patients, including 8-year-old Cassidy Otto. Puggle’s handlers are Brittany Reed and Ashley Carr.


Later, I’m off to a meeting with Brittany and Ashley. Guess who’s there? Huckleberry. We share stories about our weekends and then relax for a bit. As I take a little rest, I think back to our first day at St. Jude.

Huckleberry and I started that day by having photos taken for our employee ID badges. I made sure they got my good side. Then we met the big guy—Dr. James Downing, St. Jude president and CEO. He loves dogs, and he was happy to meet us.

Then we met our co-workers in a special Town Hall meeting. As we entered the auditorium, hundreds of employees snapped photos and greeted us. Huckleberry and I knew we were in the right place.

Huckleberry shows that an MRI isn't scary

Scan-tastic: Huckleberry shows patients that MRI scans are not scary. 

Heeling and Healing

I awaken from my daydream as the meeting ends. Brittany and I stroll to Cassidy Otto’s hospital room, where we see our friends from Rehabilitation Services. They’re trying to encourage Cassidy to get out of the bed and walk.

Cassidy is tired and a little scared. She doesn’t want to try. Brittany and I approach the bed, and the girl smiles at me. I learn Cassidy has a dog, so here’s my chance. As we get closer, she reaches out to pet me.

We spend the next few minutes getting to know each other. Cassidy agrees to stand with the help of a walker—but only if I’m nearby. Then she surprises all of us. As I pace alongside her walker, the brave girl moves across the room to a couch.

Brittany lets me jump on the couch to snuggle with Cassidy. The girl pets me some more and makes playful faces. My new friend sticks her tongue out to mimic my long tongue.

Later, the therapist says that without my help, Cassidy wouldn’t have walked today. My new friend is one step closer to walking on her own.

As we return to the office, Brittany slips me a treat and says, “Good boy, Puggle.” I’m grateful for the treat, but the real reward was seeing the determined look in Cassidy’s eyes as she moved steadily toward her goal. That’s why I’m here.

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