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Paws at Play Facility Dog Program

Our facility dogs are specially trained to help reduce stress and anxiety through animal-assisted therapy.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital launched the Paws at Play facility dog program in 2019 to help support patients, families, and staff. 

Special training

Facility dogs are not like pet dogs. From the moment they are born, they are shaped for the important work they will do. These dogs are bred for temperament and health. They are trained at Canine Assistants Inc., a nonprofit organization. Their handlers also get special training to work with the dogs in the hospital.

Our dogs help reduce stress through animal-assisted therapy. Some things the dogs may help your child with are:

  • Emotional support
  • Support during procedures
  • Pain and symptom management
  • Help with taking medicines
  • Help with movement after surgery
  • Support to reduce the use of sedation
  • End of life needs

The Paws at Play dogs can distract your child from illness, symptoms, pain, and anxiety. Our dogs give unconditional love and acceptance. They also motivate and support your child through social interaction.

Paws at Play Program goals

The St. Jude Paws at Play Program aims to:

  • Support the social, physical, and emotional development of patients by reducing stress in the hospital
  • Provide a distraction from illness symptoms, pain, and treatment
  • Help create an environment that offers unconditional love and acceptance for patients, families, and staff
  • Motivate and support patient coping through encouragement
  • Reduce anxiety by giving a source for physical contact
  • Promote social interaction
  • Reduce feelings of burnout and stress in the workplace
  • Have a positive impact on patient care

About our dogs

Rosalie joined St. Jude in September 2021. She supports staff, students, and faculty through the St. Jude Staff Resilience Center. Rosalie works mostly with St. Jude staff.

Snuggle and CC (short for “Chocolate Chip”) joined St. Jude in April 2022. These dogs work with patients to help meet clinical needs for Child Life and Psychology.

Rose joined St. Jude in May 2023. She offers support for patients and families. Areas she helps with include Social Work, the St. Jude School Program (Imagine Academy by Chili’s), and Family Commons.

Our Paws at Play team accepts referrals and consults. Day by day, we work with your child’s care team to find the best ways to help your child.

A closer look at our dogs

Just like any other St. Jude employee, the Paws at Play dogs have ID badges and enjoy lunch breaks. They play with toys and each other through their work week.  

To ensure they look their best, the dogs are well-groomed. They are bathed at least once a week. They live at their primary handlers’ houses. When they are not at work, they relax and play with other members of the handlers’ families. During their time off, the dogs enjoy playing ball, going on hikes, eating their favorite snacks, and snuggling on the couch. 

Interacting with Paws at Play dogs

  • The facility dog and their handler are a team. If you would like to pet the facility dog, always ask first. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water before and right after contact with a facility dog.
  • Child Life or Psychology will get verbal consent from the legally authorized consenter before arranging your child’s first visit with a facility dog.
  • Do not offer food to a facility dog. Food and treats can distract them, and many facility dogs are fed a specific diet and often on a certain schedule.
  • Do not assume a resting facility dog is off duty. All dogs nap, including working dogs. When their handler is sitting or standing for some length of time, it is natural for a facility dog to catch a few winks.
  • Facility dogs are unable to visit patients with isolation precautions.

If your child is allergic or has a fear of dogs, be sure to notify the handler when the facility dog is present in your area. The handler works to avoid contact with those who have fears or allergies.

Paws at Play and Doggy Daze

St. Jude has 2 programs that connect patients with dogs: Paws at Play and Doggy Daze. Each helps your child in a different way.

Paws at Play facility dogs are certified trained service dogs. They are official hospital employees that help your child reach specific goals. They also help staff manage stress. Sessions with these dogs are by appointment. Paws at Play dogs wear a green service vest and ID badge to work.

Doggy Daze animals are carefully screened visitors whose owners volunteer to bring them to the hospital to give your child comfort and affection. Volunteer dogs wear green bandanas when visiting.

Contact us 

Child Life Department
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
MS 121, Room B3053
262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN 38105-3678

Follow the facility dogs’ adventures on Instagram @stjudepaws.


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