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Child Life at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital welcomes second facility dog

The facility dog program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital has grown from four legs to eight with the addition of Becky, a golden retriever. Becky's first day of work was April 16.

Becky joins Kaia, also a golden retriever, as the second full-time facility dog at the Children's Hospital. Both dogs are part of the Child Life team, and work 40 hours a week, with time set aside for downtime, walks and naps.

Becky works directly with her primary handler, Erin Shaffer, a child life specialist, and 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. At the end of each day, Becky goes home with Shaffer.

“We are excited to have Becky join the Penn State Health Children’s Hospital family,” Shaffer said. “She is already making the hospital a better place for our patients. Whether she is helping a child stay calm during a procedure or motivating a child to get up and walk after surgery, we know Becky is going to leave her mark on the hearts of our pediatric patients.”

Becky the facility dog - Penn State Health Children's Hospital
Becky was raised and trained by Canine Assistants in Georgia, where she learned 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. Shaffer, Bate and Blashford traveled to Georgia earlier this month to meet Becky and learn the bond-based choice training method.

“We are thrilled to have Becky join our team, and truly appreciate the support we have received to get to this point,” said Ashley Kane, manager of the Child Life Program. “Our team looks forward to continuing to build upon and highlight the benefits of animal-assisted interventions with our patients, their families and our staff.”

The facility dog program is funded by an anonymous donor who established the Kelso Facility Dog Endowment. The Kelso fund, named after the donor's dog, provides support for the program, including caring for facility dogs in their retirement.

Becky and Kaia are the only full-time facility dogs at a children's hospital in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, about 30 children's hospitals have facility dogs.

The facility dog program is separate from the Pet Therapy Program, which continues to have an important presence in both the Children's Hospital and adult hospital. The two programs have different kinds of training and help patients in different ways. Facility dogs get extensive training to work in a health care environment and learn specific tasks to help children cope with major and minor hospital procedures. Pet therapy dogs offer companionship, as well as a calming and therapeutic influence for patients.

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