hospital facility dog program

Four Paws and a Heart of Gold: St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital launches new facility dog program with its first four-legged employee

No one wants to find themselves in a situation where their child has to be admitted to a hospital. But if your family does have to do so, at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, you can rest easy knowing that your child is in the hands of some of the country’s most sought-after, highly trained professionals.

Now that elite group has a new member in its ranks.

hospital facility dog program
Revere Playing Uno with 8-year-old Patient Dylan

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Facility Dog Program

Meet Revere: a 2-year-old Labrador Golden Retriever mix. The hospital’s first facility dog, Revere learned more than 40 tasks over two years of training, making him an ideal partner in patient care. As a member of the hospital’s Child Life team, he lives with Child Life Specialist Hannah Murray.

“I am always looking for ways to improve the patient experience,” Murray says. “Dogs provide a sense of comfort and joy that is so unique. To bring this experience to the hospital and brighten spirits upon entering patient rooms, I simply jumped at the opportunity. I knew a facility dog would be able to elevate the services I provide to our patients, and the facility dog would be able to connect with patients and families on a different level than I ever could.”

As a facility dog rather than a pet therapy dog, Revere’s presence provides comfort, but his work includes so much more than that. He can retrieve items and open and close drawers, for example. Some commands Revere is trained to perform include “push” (such as a cabinet, drawer, a button or toy with his nose); “tug” to open drawers or pull wagons; “visit” to lay his head on a lap; and “step” to place his front paws on the foot plates of a wheelchair. Murray often uses “get” and “give” commands while playing card games or doing puzzles with kids—Revere will pick up cards and pieces and hand them to her and her patients.

Revere came to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital from Canine Companions, an organization that trains and places service dogs with professionals in clinical, educational or court settings, as well as with individuals who have special needs. The organization provided Revere to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital at no cost. The hospital’s new facility dog program is also generously supported by the Adcock family in Tampa.

hospital facility dog program
Hannah learns that she is matched with Revere during training

During a two-week training course in May, Canine Companions matched Revere’s outgoing nature with the needs of Murray and the Child Life team. “I was hoping for a sociable and motivated dog that would be eager and excited to come to work. Revere is just that!” Murray says.

Revere now lives with Murray and goes to work with her Monday through Friday. And he’s no slacker. In just a few weeks of work, he’s comforted anxious patients by snuggling in bed with them. He helps calm down kids who need IV and port access. He motivates patients to be more mobile, as patients are eager to assist Murray in taking Revere on walks.

An important aspect of Murray’s role as a child life specialist is quickly building rapport with patients. She explains that when they are in hospitals, children can be hyper-vigilant and fearful when someone is entering their room. In this regard especially, Revere is a game-changer. “Patients have told me when they hear the jingling sound of his dog tags outside of their room, they are excited, as they immediately know Revere is coming in to brighten their day.”

Coming into patients’ rooms with this four-legged coworker has helped set Murray up for success by establishing her role as a safe person in the hospital setting.

“Revere provides unbiased, unconditional love to everyone he encounters,” Murray says. “He is an instant joy spreader.”

*Presented by BayCare | Originally published in July 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.