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St. Jude acquires a facility dog for employee support

Rosalie, a 60-pound golden retriever, joins St. Jude as a facility dog in the Staff Resilience Center dedicated to supporting employees.

Memphis, Tennessee, October 11, 2021

Dog running in the grass in front of colorful flowers.

Rosalie joins the St. Jude Paws at Play program to aid resilience efforts for employees.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has welcomed a new, specially trained facility dog dedicated to employee respite needs. Rosalie, a two-year-old, 60-pound golden retriever, will be part of the Staff Resilience Center, which helps employees care for themselves so that they can continue to care for others. The Resilience Center assists employees in finding ways to cope with stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. Kimberly Russell, a St. Jude chaplain, serves as the dog's primary handler, and Janet Sellers, manager of the Resilience Center, is the  backup handler.

"We are excited to have a facility dog available to staff to help encourage people to 'paws' and practice a moment of self-care," Sellers said. "Sometimes we are so busy, we need a reminder that it's OK to take some time to breathe, laugh or have a conversation. The staff facility dog is really going to help us with that."

The St. Jude Paws at Play facility dog program launched in September 2019 with two hires: Huckleberry, a golden doodle, and Puggle, a golden retriever. As part of the Child Life program, their workday duties include helping patients achieve clinical goals and providing social interaction, stress reduction and sensory stimulation.

As part of the Staff Resilience Center, Rosalie will be dedicated to supporting employees. She will attend sessions with staff after events such as the loss of a patient or a colleague. Staff can also request visits. Rosalie will make rounds throughout the institution, visiting clinical, research and administrative areas. Her duties require a handler who is adept at empathy, listening and providing support, which is why Russell, who served in Spiritual Care Services since 2013, was selected as her handler.

“As a chaplain, a lot of our job is presence—sitting, listening, being with people and cultivating a safe space—and a dog can really help make that safe space happen quicker for a lot of people,” 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."

"Kimberly's role in the Resilience Center will allow her to use her experience as a chaplain with a primary focus on staff," Sellers said. "She has a skillset for non-judgmental listening and support—something we could all benefit from when faced with the challenges and stresses of life, whether personal or professional."

Like her furry colleagues, Rosalie is a native and graduate of Georgia-based Canine Assistants,  an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has trained facility and service dogs since 1991 and has placed dogs in hospitals for over a decade. They paired Rosalie, who celebrated her second birthday October 5, with St. Jude for a specific reason.

"Canine Assistants said Rosalie’s gift is loving people and being loved by them," Sellers said. "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 family."

St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, M.D., is an avid dog fan and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Paws at Play program.

“We’ve seen how Puggle and Huckleberry have benefited patients at St. Jude—whether easing anxiety, providing comfort during hospitalization, or offering unconditional love and acceptance,” Downing said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the dogs also assisted staff through many long hours and hard days. We know the impact this type of support can have. Rosalie is a wonderful resource for helping employees continue to tackle the challenging, but also rewarding charge of finding cures and saving children.”

The workdays of Rosalie, Huckleberry and Puggle are featured on Instagram: @stjudepaws.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.