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Paws at Play Facility Dog Program

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

Some children at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital may be anxious about treatment. The Paws at Play program aims to distract patients from their illness, symptoms, pain and anxiety. Our facility dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance. They also motivate and support patients through social interaction.

About our dogs

Rosalie joined St. Jude in September 2021. She is a full-time hospital employee in the Staff Resilience Center. She received more than 18 months of training before starting her role at St. Jude. Her handlers also received special training to work with her in the hospital.

Rosalie works with primary handler Chaplain Kimberly Russell, MDiv, BCC, and secondary handler, Janet Sellers, MSSW, LCSW, both of the Staff Resilience Center. Rosalie works primarily with staff, helping with feelings of stress and burnout, and positively impacting patient care.

Snuggle and CC (short for “Chocolate Chip”) joined St. Jude in April 2022. The dogs work with each of their primary and secondary handlers to help meet clinical needs for child life and psychology intervention throughout the hospital.

Snuggle works with primary handler Amy Kennedy, CCLS, and secondary handler Jennifer Smith, MS, CCLS, both of Child Life. CC works with primary handler Shawn Brasher, MS, CCLS, Child Life director, and secondary handler Elyse Heidelberg, PsyD, of Psychology.

Rose joined St. Jude in May 2023. She is helping to enhance psychosocial support for patients and families in areas including Social Work, the St. Jude School Program, and Family Commons. Rose works with primary handler Kathy Clayton, LCSW, of Social Work, and secondary handlers Nicole Byford, MS, School Program, and Erica Sirrine, PhD, Social Work director.

Our Paws at Play team accepts referrals and consults and coordinates with the multi-disciplinary patient care team to prioritize how to integrate interventions into patients’ schedules day by day.

Just like any other employee, the dogs have ID badges and enjoy lunch breaks. They play with toys and each other throughout their work week. To ensure they look their best for the job, they are well-groomed and bathed at least once a week. The dogs 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.

  • Chocolate Chip (CC)
    • Facility Dog (trained service animal)
    • Handlers: Shawn Brasher, MS, CCLS, Child Life; Elyse Heidelberg, PsyD, Psychology

    Child Life, Psychology

    Birthday: December 10, 2020
    Breed: Golden Retriever    
    Instagram: @stjudepaws

  • Rosalie
    • Facility Dog (trained service animal)
    • Handlers: Chaplain Kimberly Russell, BCC, and Janet Sellers, LCSW, both of the Staff Resilience Center

    Staff Resilience Center

    Birthday: October 5, 2019
    Breed: Golden Retriever
    Instagram: @stjudepaws

  • Rose
    • Facility Dog (trained service animal)
    • Handlers: Kathy Clayton, LCSW, and Erica Sirrine, PhD, both of Social Work; Nicole Byford, MS, School Program

    Social Work, School Program

    Birthday: November 13, 2021
    Breed: Golden Retriever    
    Instagram: @stjudepaws

  • Snuggle
    • Facility Dog (trained service animal)
    • Handlers: Amy Kennedy, CCLS, and Jennifer Smith, MS, CCLS, both of Child Life

    Child Life

    Birthday: October 15, 2019
    Breed: Golden Retriever
    Instagram: @stjudepaws

Paws at Play and Doggy Daze

St. Jude has 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 facility dogs are certified trained service dogs and are official hospital employees. Their job is to help patients achieve specific goals and to help staff overcome stressful situations. Sessions with these dogs are by appointment. Facility dogs wear a green service vest and ID badge to work. 

Doggy Daze dogs 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 bandanas when visiting. Sessions with these dogs are brief and may include several patients at once.

What is a facility dog? (Like the Paws at Play dogs)

Facility dogs are trained service dogs, that are specially certified to perform animal-assisted therapy at hospitals.

What is a service 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.

What is a therapy dog?

A therapy dog is certified to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals. Therapy dogs are not service animals.

What do the Paws at Play facility dogs do?

The facility dogs 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 do I make a request for a Paws at Play facility dog for my child?

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

What if I am allergic or have 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 Paws at Play facility dogs?

The facility dogs 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 facility dog.

Can I walk a Paws at Play facility dog?

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

Do the facility dogs bark?

While our facility dogs typically don't bark while working at the hospital, there may be a time when they will bark to alert their handler to something. It doesn't happen often, and handlers are trained to respond and handle these situations.