We're proud to introduce Kaia, the newest employee in the Child Life department! This team member does more than just cuddle and play fetch – she will play a very important role in Child Life and the entire Children’s Hospital as the hospital’s first-ever facility dog. In fact, the Children’s Hospital is the first children’s hospital in Pennsylvania to employ a full-time facility dog.
Kaia is a golden retriever and came to Children’s Hospital from Canine Assistants, in Alpharetta, Ga. She has been professionally taught through a bond-based choice teaching program in preparation to serve as a key member of the Children’s Hospital treatment team. Kaia will provide animal assisted interventions - like demonstrating to a child how to be still on the CT scan table.
Kaia is a full-time employee in Child Life, and will work directly with primary handler Ashley Kane, Child Life manager, and secondary handler Alicia Cesare, Child Life specialist in pediatric radiology.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a facility dog?
A facility dog is a professionally trained to work in a healthcare setting as an important part of a child’s treatment process. At Children’s Hospital, Kaia will provide customized interventions so that nurses and hospital staff can best meet the child’s needs.
How often will Kaia be at the Children’s Hospital?
The dog is a full-time employee of the Children’s Hospital and will be with her primary handler for 40 hours per week, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks.
What does Kaia do after work and on the weekends?
Kaia lives with her primary handler, Ashley Kane, so she will go home with Ashley at the end of the day and carpool with Ashley to work. Evenings and weekends will likely be spent going for walks, playing games, resting and getting to know Ashley’s other dog, Willa.
Will Kaia go throughout the Children’s Hospital?
The dog’s main job is to support the efforts of her primary and secondary handlers, Ashley Kane and Alicia Cesare. Ashley and Alicia support pediatric patients in radiology, and Ashley also supports pediatric patients in radiation oncology. Kaia will spend the majority of her time working in these areas.
Will Kaia be protected from radiation in radiology?
Absolutely! Kaia will not be in the room while there is chance of exposure to radiation. She will be in the room before the testing begins to help the child adjust to the situation and get positioned on the table and she will return once testing is complete.
Does this facility dog replace the Pet Therapy Program?
No! The Pet Therapy Program is a very important program in both the Children’s Hospital and the adult hospital. The facility dog program does not replace pet therapy in any way. Pet therapy dogs and the facility dog have different training and support patients in different ways. The facility dog provides very specific interventions for patients, while pet therapy dogs visit designated units within the Children’s Hospital and visit many patients to provide a calming influence during their time at the hospital.
Do other hospitals have facility dogs?
Children’s Hospital is the first children’s hospital in Pennsylvania to employ a full-time facility dog. However, other hospitals do offer robust pet therapy programs. Nationwide, there are approximately 30 children’s hospitals that have facility dogs.
How is a facility dog trained?
Facility dogs are carefully and responsibly bred and raised based upon several qualities and characteristics. The organization where the facility dog was trained also adopts dogs from local shelter and rescue organizations on occasion. The facility dogs are trained using the bond-based choice teaching approach. Facility dogs are trained for the first 14-24 months of their lives before being placed with facilities such as children’s hospitals. The handler of the facility dog also goes through training camp once partnered with the dog to learn the bond-based teaching method and other important information.
How much does it cost to train and raise a facility dog?
On average, the associated training cost per facility dog is just over $22,000. This includes training, vaccinations, veterinary care and food for the lifetime of the facility dog.
Did Penn State Health or the Children’s Hospital have to pay for this dog?
No! The generosity of the non-profit organization that raised the facility dog does not charge any fee for the services of raising and training the facility dog before placement. Thanks to a special donor to the Child Life Program - Spirit Halloween, through its "Spirit of Children” initiative - other costs, like the dog’s bed, toys, food and veterinary care will likely be covered in full, at least for a few years!
Spirit of Children brings fun to hospitals at Halloween
Spirit of Children brings fun to hospitals at Halloween and funding for Child Life programs all year long. Their mission is to make hospital stays less scary for kids and their families. Since 2010, Spirit of Children has raised nearly $300,000 to benefit Child Life at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and in 2016, the charity gave us a record one-year total of $59,787.