Facility Dogs and Animal-Assisted Therapy

Davis, service dog, greeting a boy in a patient room at OHSU
Davis, one of two facility dogs at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, visits 8-year-old Connor Zimmerman. Our facility dogs and animal-assisted therapy teams help make the hospital less frightening for young patients.

At OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, we understand the healing power of dogs and cats. Our animal-therapy services are just one way we provide complete care for your child and family.

  • We are the only hospital in the Northwest and among the few in the U.S. with two “hospital facility dogs,” Hope and Davis.
  • Hope and Davis provide comfort and promote healing. They make being in the hospital less scary for young patients so we can provide the best care possible.
  • Hope and Davis play important roles in supporting siblings and families.
  • Separate animal-assisted therapy teams bring dogs and cats to visit patients at Doernbecher and other parts of OHSU.

How do animals help?

Studies show that therapy dogs can:

  • Lower stress
  • Distract a child from pain
  • Ease a child’s fear of medical procedures
  • Leave a child happier and more relaxed
  • Improve communication within families
  • Improve communication between parents and care providers 

At Doernbecher, Hope and Davis make the hospital feel less frightening. This helps our expert doctors, nurses and other providers give children the tests and treatments they need with less stress.

Davis and Hope, the two service dogs, resting on pavement outside
Davis (left) and Hope are Doernbecher’s hospital facility dogs. They are specially trained to provide comfort to patients and families.

What are hospital facility dogs?

Hope and Davis are trained hospital therapy dogs. They respond to commands such as “jump on” and “snuggle.” They are part of our staff, with vests and badges. Both live with and report to work with OHSU employees who received training and certification in animal-assisted therapy.

Hope and Davis are owned by Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, which has a Washington location called Assistance Dogs Northwest. Both dogs joined Doernbecher under 10-year contracts.

Hope and Davis don’t visit patients with compromised immune systems or families who prefer not to be around dogs. Handlers also follow detailed policies on cleanliness for dogs, patients and patient beds.

What are animal-assisted therapy teams?

Volunteers bring therapy-certified dogs and cats to our Marquam Hill campus and other parts of OHSU. The volunteer-and-pet teams visit patient rooms and waiting areas at Doernbecher and OHSU Hospital. They also visit our South Waterfront dental offices.

Meet Hope and Davis

Kristin (in a green sweater) with Davis, and Sandy Westfall with Hope, pictured outdoors together.
Clinical social worker Kristin Knight (left) is one of Davis’ two
handlers. Sandy Westfall, manager of Doernbecher’s Child Life
Program, is Hope’s handler.

Hope and Davis are specially trained to bring joy and comfort to young patients. In patient rooms, they stretch next to a child for petting. Off-hours, both live with their handlers as regular dogs.

Hope

Handler: Sandy Westfall, manager of Doernbecher’s Child Life Program

Breed: English cream golden retriever

Joined OHSU: 2015

Title: “Chief canine officer”

Role in therapy: Hope helps in Westfall’s main job — helping children cope with being in the hospital. Hope also helps children heal. Westfall lets patients walk Hope in the halls as part of physical therapy, for example. To coax children to take medication, she has Hope swallow a fish-oil capsule.

Special moments: 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,” Westfall says. Staff members, especially when they’re having a bad day, come by Westfall’s office for “a Hope moment.”

Quotable: Patients often end a visit with a relieved sigh and say, “I feel so much better now,” Westfall says.

The two golden retriever therapy dogs, Davis and Hope
Davis (left) joined Doernbecher in 2018, Hope in 2015. Doernbecher is one of the few U.S. hospitals with two facility dogs.

Davis

Handlers: Dr. Dana Braner, a pediatrician who focuses on critical care, and Kristin Knight, a clinical social worker in Doernbecher’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Off-hours, Davis divides his time between their homes.

Breed: Golden retriever

Joined OHSU: 2018

Title: “Vice chair canine affairs”

A close-up of the OHSU identify badge for Davis, the therapy dog, and his uniform (blue vest with logo)

Role in therapy: Like Hope, Davis offers comfort and promotes healing. He motivates children to get out of bed and walk after surgery, for instance, and helps kids express their feelings. He might sit with a family making a difficult care decision. Or he might cheer a family that misses pets back home.

Special moments: One boy, back for a second hospital stay, barely talked with his care team. Instead, he opened up to Davis about his worries and sadness about missing baseball, Knight says. Another time, Davis lay patiently next to a girl coming to terms with a younger sibling’s unexpected hospitalization and end of life. The girl stroked Davis’ silken fur as she faced going home without her sibling.

Quotable: Davis is great with people of all ages, but “when he sees and hears children, his smile gets bigger and his tail wags wider,” Knight says.

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.

Request a visit

Talk to your child’s care team if you’re interested in a visit from Hope, Davis or a pet-assisted therapy team. Doctors can prescribe a visit. Nurses can also arrange one.

Volunteering

OHSU can accept more animal-assisted therapy teams. To apply, your pet must have a “complex” rating from Pet PartnersDove Lewis or an equivalent organization. Learn about: