Paws at Play Hospital Dog Program

Hospital dogs aren’t like pet dogs. From the moment they are born, they are shaped for the important work they will do. These four-legged friends offer patients social contact, reduce stress, and stimulate senses through animal-assisted therapy.

Some children at St. Jude may be anxious about treatment. Puggle and Huckleberry work with their humans in Child Life to help patients cope with receiving treatment and being in the hospital.

The Paws at Play program aims to distract patients from their illness, symptoms, pain and anxiety. Our trained service dogs will offer unconditional love and acceptance. They will also motivate and support patients through social interaction.

About our dogs

Puggle works largely in the inpatient Solid Tumor and Neuro-Oncology units with primary handler Brittany Reed. Ashley Carr, backup handler, will take Puggle to visit patients in Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy as needed.

Huckleberry works in Diagnostic Imaging with primary handler Shandra Taylor. Backup handler Katie Greer will take Huckleberry to visit patients in H Clinic as needed. Our handlers have received special training to work with the dogs in the hospital.

The dogs live at their primary handlers’ houses. When Puggle and Huckleberry are not at work, they relax and play with other members of the handlers’ families.

Paws at Play and Doggy Daze

Child Life organizes two programs that connect patients with dogs—Paws at Play and Doggy Daze. Each helps St. Jude patients in a different way.

Paws at Play therapy dogs are certified service dogs and are official hospital employees. Their job is to help patients achieve specific goals. These dogs wear green service vests and ID badges to work.

Doggy Daze animals are carefully screened therapy dogs that simply provide comfort and affection to patients and their families at scheduled volunteer shifts. These volunteer dogs wear green bandannas when visiting. Sessions with these dogs are brief and may include several patients at once.

What is the difference between a service dog and a hospital dog?

Service dogs are specially trained to help perform tasks to ease their handlers’ disabilities. These dogs help their handlers gain independence and remain safe. Service dogs should not be petted, as this could distract them from their important work.

Hospital dogs, sometimes known as therapy dogs, are also trained service dogs, but their main focus is to provide psychological therapy to people who are not their handlers. Hospital dogs are specially certified to perform animal-assisted therapy for patients and families at hospitals.

What will the hospital dogs do?

The hospital dogs will help children in many ways. They may:

  • Offer support during procedures
  • Help kids comply with taking medicines
  • Motivate patients to move after surgery or during long hospital stays
  • Take part in mock-scanner sessions to reduce sedation
  • Help with end-of-life needs

How many patients will the dogs see each day?

A hospital dog will see about four to six patients a day. When not with patients, the dog will be given rest time.

How do I make an appointment for a therapy dog?

Contact Child Life or reach out to the Paws at Play team at pawsatplay@stjude.org. The dogs are available for a limited number of referrals each day. They will meet the needs of other areas as time permits. Dogs will visit specific patients based on handler assessments and clinical staff consults. Unfortunately, the hospital dogs are unable to visit patients with isolation precautions.

What if my child is allergic or has a fear of dogs?

When one of the dogs is in your area, please let the handler know your child is allergic. The handler will work to avoid contact with those who have fears or allergies.

Can I pet the dogs?

Puggle and Huckleberry enjoy love and affection from everyone. Please ask permission first from the handler rather than approaching the dog. Clean your hands with alcohol or wash with soap and water before and after touching a hospital dog.

Can I walk a facility dog?

No, handlers must ensure that hospital dogs are leashed and under their direct control while on the St. Jude campus, including times when the dogs are not working.