Facility Dog Program

Facility Dog Program

A young girl in a pink dress smiles and hugs a golden retriever, her head placed gently against the dog's neck.

Our dogs

Kaia and Becky were born and raised at a non-profit organization called Canine Assistants, Inc. in Milton, GA. Both dogs are part of the Child Life team, and work 40 hours a week, with time set aside for downtime, walks and naps.

Kaia

Penn State Children’s Hospital is 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 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.

 

Becky

Becky with her handlers, Haley Bate, a child life specialist (left) and Megan Blashford (center), a recreation therapist - and primary handler Erin Shaffer.Becky has been professionally taught to learn skills unique to working with kids at a children’s hospital, such as how to work with IV poles and wheelchairs. She is trained to work with children of all ages.

Becky works directly with her primary handler, Erin Shaffer, a child life specialist, secondary handlers, Haley Bate, a child life specialist, and Megan Blashford, a recreation therapist. Her main duties are to help lower stress, provide diversion during tests and procedures and bring comfort to the patients staying at the Children’s Hospital.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a facility dog?

A facility dog is professionally trained to work in a healthcare setting as an important part of a child’s treatment process. At Children’s Hospital, our facility dogs will provide customized interventions so that nurses and hospital staff can best meet the child’s needs.

How often will the facility dogs be at the Children’s Hospital?

Our dogs are full-time employee of the Children’s Hospital and will be with their primary handlers for 40 hours per week, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks.

What do our facility dogs do after work and on the weekends?

Both Kaia and Becky live with their primary handlers and will go home at the end of the day and carpool with their handlers to work. Evenings and weekends will likely be spent going for walks, playing games, resting.

Will the facility dogs go throughout the Children’s Hospital?

Kaia’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.

Becky's main duties are to help lower stress, provide diversion during tests and procedures and bring comfort to the patients staying at the Children’s Hospital.

Will the facility dogs be protected from radiation in radiology?

Absolutely! Our dogs will not be in the room while there is chance of exposure to radiation. They 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.

Do the facility dogs 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 dog’s 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 full-time facility dogs. However, other hospitals do offer robust pet therapy programs. Nationwide, there are approximately 30 children’s hospitals that have facility dogs.

How are facility dogs 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. Funding is already earmarked for our facility dogs. The training for one facility dog takes between 14 and 24 months and costs about $22,000.

Thanks to an anonymous donor who established the Kelso Facility Dog Endowment, we have sufficient funds to support Kaia, Becky and others that may follow. Without the donor’s generosity, this wonderful program might not exist, at least not to the level that it does.

The Kelso fund, takes its name from the donor’s own dog, a Belgian Malinois. With this gift, the donor was able to combine his love of animals, especially dogs, with his desire to make a tangible difference in the lives of children. It’s a win-win. The fund provides comprehensive support, even including the cost of caring for the facility dogs in their retirement. Kelso welcomes others to join in this effort by donating to the Kelso Fund.

Man’s best friends have long been recognized as great companions. Now their special talents are celebrated as a vital part of the healing care offered at the Children’s Hospital. Quite simply, there’s a magic and power to animal-assisted therapy and intervention.