St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has two very popular new staff members: Puggle, the golden retriever, and Huckleberry, the goldendoodle.
Since the St. Jude Paws at Play program launched in September, the doggy duo has been doing things humans can’t. The specially trained dogs work with patients to help them meet clinical goals, easing fears and calming patients during challenging situations.
Take the case of 12-year-old Devon who is at St. Jude undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma. He misses his dog King back home, but seeing Puggle makes things better.
“When Puggle entered the room, you saw Devon’s world light up, and he became a little more open and engaging, and he wanted to get up out of bed,” said St. Jude Child Life Specialist Brittany Reed, who serves as Puggle’s handler.
Shandra Taylor, who works with Huckleberry, said the dogs have tangible effects, such as helping patients get through imaging scans without anesthesia. They’re also good at encouraging patients to move around the hospital after surgery, a crucial part of recovery.
“It’s so much more than just a social visit,” Taylor said. “There’s something really magical about the presence of a dog.”
The doggy duo came from a service dog school, where training started at a young age.
The school’s nursery team begins working with dogs in the first week of their lives — introducing challenging but pleasant experiences to teach the dogs adaptability and comfort. Once they get their puppy shots at 7 weeks, the dogs are taken out for exposure to different locales, such as restaurants, malls and movie theaters. Teaching ramps up for the dogs at 14 weeks of age, but play time remains an important part of the process.
To cap off their training, the therapy dogs meet their handlers during a weeklong graduation camp where the two learn to work together as a team.
Karen Casto, director of the Canine Assistants hospital initiative, said Puggle and Huckleberry are a perfect fit for St. Jude.
“They are both super sweet and kind of intuitive about what people need and who needs them,” she said. “We look for dogs that can handle the hospital environment and want to make all these wonderful new friends. That’s why they were chosen.”
Follow Puggle and Huckleberry on Instagram @StJudePaws.