Sign In

Celebrating Pet Therapy

June 4, 2020

When experienced pet handler Linda Dunn moved to Jacksonville, she approached numerous hospitals about starting a pet therapy program. When she shared this vision with Wolfson Children’s Hospital leaders, they saw it as an innovative way to improve patients’ experiences. Dunn promptly joined the Wolfson Children’s Auxiliary, established the program, and made the hospital’s first pet therapy visit in May 1995 with her Labrador retriever, Jenni.

In May 2020, the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Pet Therapy Program celebrated its 25th anniversary. In that time, pet therapy dogs and handlers have visited thousands of patients and families to provide emotional support during their hospitalization. To commemorate Pet Therapy’s contribution to Jacksonville’s children and families, Mayor Lenny Curry proclaimed May 15, 2020, to be Wolfson Children’s Hospital Pet Therapy Day.

Today, the auxiliary has a roster of 13 certified pet therapy teams, each made up of one handler and one dog, with one more duo in training.

“Our Pet Therapy Program is a unique and important part of how we care for our patients,” said Michael D. Aubin, FACHE, president of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “These remarkable dogs and owners reduce anxiety for and bring comfort to our patients, their families and our team members the moment they walk in the door. The bonds our patients and therapy pets form are evidence of how important the program becomes to them during their stay.”

Pet therapy is an evidence-based way to support children’s healing, no matter the reason the children are in the hospital. Studies show that spending time with a certified therapy dog triggers the release of endorphins, which eases pain and discomfort, lowers blood pressure, and reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. When patients need to practice their motor skills or learn to walk again, providers can call on therapy dogs to motivate them to practice walking, petting, and reaching to tug or toss toys. Wolfson’s pet therapy teams not only visit patients, but also provide support to nurses, physicians, and other providers during special events, like Nurses Week. Baptist Health also offers pet therapy visits at two of its locations thanks to 15 handler and dog volunteer pairs.

Pet Therapy Chair and volunteer handler Jeanne Shober said she and her dog Bear have seen the benefits of pet therapy firsthand.

“Nearly every child we visit has a beloved pet at home that they miss terribly,” Shober said. “Sharing our dogs with the children, their parents and the staff helps to bring smiles and a touch of happiness to their day. Sharing our pets is also rewarding to the handlers and their dogs. It’s such a privilege for us to be a part of this wonderful hospital.”

Register your Dog Schedule a Visit

  • Recent News

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogs At School

    Those who own a dog can attest to their ability to lift mood, improve stress and bring joy by simply being there, unanswering, seemingly all-knowing and always delighted to see you.  Therapy animals are known for their calm and comforting nature, giving people a way to relax, de-stress and interact with a loving pet.  They […]

    Read more

    Wonder Dog

    For those of us with dogs, we know they quickly become major parts of the family. You live for and care for just like one of your own children, and one dog right here in Oklahoma City is beating the odds, and helping others recover as a therapy dog, despite all of the issues he’s […]

    Read more

    Scott And Charlie

    Cherokee Middle School students may do a little more “doodling” second semester starting this month (January), but also will improve their attendance marks because of a special attraction at the school, courtesy of Principal Scott Aden. Aden, an effective, caring administrator, has acquired and will house and handle a young female Golden Doodle (Charlie) that […]

    Read more

    Hope For Veterans

    E5 Therapy opened in April with a different way to help veterans in therapy. They offer canine-assisted therapy along with talk therapy to veterans and veterans’ families in Solano County. Owner Matthew Decker is a licensed clinical social worker in Northern California, focused on helping veterans achieve their mental health goals. Along with his team, […]

    Read more