Hope, the Facility Dog, and Animal-Assisted Therapy

Hope the facility dog

Hope, the OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital facility dog, and OHSU’s animal-assisted therapy teams spread joy and help children heal.

Visits with Hope

Hope comes to work each day with her handler, Child Life Program Manager Sandy Westfall. Most days, Hope spends two to three hours visiting patients and families.

In patient rooms, Hope responds to commands such as “jump on” and “snuggle.” She’ll stretch next to a child with her head positioned for petting. She also visits Doernbecher classrooms, playrooms and waiting rooms.

Westfall gives children a small stuffed version of Hope to keep. Patients often end their visit with a relieved sigh and say, “I feel so much better now.”

Hope’s role in therapy

Hope aids in Westfall’s main job — helping children cope with being in the hospital. With Hope along, kids are more likely to open up.

Westfall lets patients walk Hope in the halls as part of physical therapy. She has Hope swallow a fish-oil capsule to coax children to take medication.

Once, Hope helped a boy overcome his fear of visiting his injured younger brother. Westfall invited the boy to take Hope’s leash, and they walked to his brother’s room together. “Hope gave him courage,” she says.

“A Hope moment”

Hope, an English cream golden retriever, doesn’t visit patients with compromised immune systems. Westfall is also respectful of families who prefer not to be around  dogs.

During down time, Hope can rest on a large dog bed in Westfall’s office. Staff members, especially when they’re having a bad day, often come by for “a Hope moment.”

Hope joined Doernbecher in 2015 under a 10-year contract with her owner, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii. Hope lives with Westfall and her husband, and spends her off-hours as a regular dog.

Animal-assisted therapy teams

Volunteers  bring dogs and cats with therapy certification to visit OHSU, including  Doernbecher Children's Hospital. The pets snuggle with patients and go person to person in waiting rooms.

Josh Beebe, the Volunteer Services supervisor who oversees the program, describes one visit between an Akita named Zipporah and a little girl having a rough day:

“The dog walked in. She lit up. The family lit up. The grandparents were there. It turned into this huge family moment,” Beebe says. “Those interactions are replicated time and time again.”

How the program works

To  participate, pets must have a “complex” rating from Pet Partners, DoveLewis or an equivalent organization. The certification, renewed each year, ensures the pet has been trained and can handle a busy hospital.

Volunteers agree to visit OHSU at least every other week. Veteran volunteers make sure teams are a good fit before they’re added to the roster.