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‘Pilot’ lands at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital

A new provider has joined the region’s only children’s hospital.

Paging Dr. Pilot. Here, boy!

Pilot, a black golden retriever, is the third facility dog to join the growing pack at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

Pilot works directly with his primary handler, Stacy Gloudemans, certified child life specialist, and secondary handlers, Jenn Shearn, child life assistant, and Joan McGeary, certified child life specialist. He will spend most of his time tending to patients in the Pediatric Surgical Care Unit and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Pilot was raised and trained by Canine Assistants in Georgia, where he learned skills unique to working with kids at a children’s hospital, such as how to navigate hallways when walking next to wheelchairs and IV poles and gently resting next to a child who has experienced an injury, such as an amputation. Gloudemans, Shearn and McGeary traveled to Georgia last month to meet Pilot and learned how to integrate Pilot into their daily child life interventions and programming while maintaining a safe environment of care.

“We are grateful to add Pilot to our team and think he will be a perfect fit in meeting the unique needs of patients, families, and staff in the PICU and Pediatric Surgical Care Unit,” Gloudemans said.

Pilot lands at Penn State Health Children's Hospital
In 2016, Penn State Health Children’s Hospital became the first children’s hospital in Pennsylvania to establish a facility dog program when Kaia, a golden retriever, started on the job. Her primary handler is Ashley Kane, manager of the Child Life Program. Becky, also a golden retriever, joined the program in 2018, and remains in action with her primary handler, Erin Shaffer.

The facility dogs are full-time employees of the Children’s Hospital and spend 40 hours on the job each week with their primary handlers, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks. The dogs also live with their primary handlers.

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.

Kaia spends the majority of her time supporting young patients in radiology and radiation oncology. Becky’s main duties are to help lower stress, provide diversion during tests and procedures and bring comfort to pediatric patients, families and staff in the pediatric hematology/oncology unit, the Pediatric Intermediate Care Unit, and Pediatric Acute Care Unit.

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.

The facility dog program is made possible by the generosity of donors to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Support from Spirit of Children enabled Kaia to be the first dog to join the team. The program has also benefited from individual donor contributions and H&S Industrial’s “Hope in the Air” Gala. It is sustained by ongoing funding from the Kelso Facility Dog Endowment, which was established by an anonymous donor in honor of their dog, a Belgian Malinois named Kelso. The fund provides comprehensive support, including the cost of caring for the facility dogs in their eventual retirement.

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