Facility Dogs and Animal-Assisted Therapy
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,” Casey and Davis.
- Casey 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.
- Casey 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 family members and care providers
At Doernbecher, Casey 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.
What are hospital facility dogs?
Casey and Davis are trained hospital therapy dogs. They respond to commands such as “snuggle” and "high-five." 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.
Casey and Davis are provided by Assistance Dogs Northwest.
Casey 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.
Meet Casey and Davis
Casey and Davis are specially trained to bring joy and comfort to young patients. In patient rooms, they can lie next to a child for petting. Off-hours, the dogs live with their handlers and caretakers.
Handlers: Dr. Dana Braner, Doernbecher's physician-in-chief, 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”
Role in therapy: 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.
Handlers: Nikki Wiggins, a nurse manager in Doernbecher’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and Lyndsey Clapier, a clinical social worker in Doernbecher’s Pediatric Intermediate Care Unit.
Breed: Labrador-golden retriever mix
Joined OHSU: 2022
Title: “Chief cuddling officer”
Role in therapy: Casey visits children in the hospital. She spends time with families of some of OHSU’s smallest patients, who might be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for months. She snuggles with new parents in the Mother-Baby unit. She also offers comfort to families who have had a loss in childbirth.
Special moments: One patient was on bed rest while pregnant with twins. After a visit from Casey, she felt a sense of calm and peace that lowered her anxiety and blood pressure. Another patient, a girl, had needed sedation for scans. Then she lay with Casey and petted and talked to her. The girl’s mom said Casey’s help meant the world to both of them.
Quotable: Casey helps families going through a tough time. “She’s already touched so many lives in the short time that she has been at Doernbecher,” Wiggins says.
Doernbecher began its facility dog program in 2015. Hope, the first dog to join, retired in 2022.
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.
Rob Wedlake, the Volunteer Services supervisor who oversees the program, describes one visit between a little girl in a waiting area and a new animal-assisted therapy team: Bella and her dog, Tommy.
They went to a waiting area, where a little girl was crying. “Her mother and two providers stood with her, trying to convince her that it was time to go to her appointment,” Wedlake says. They went over, and Bella asked if Tommy could say hello.
"The patient’s mother and the staff members nodded, and Bella sat down next to the girl and asked if Tommy could sit on her lap. A smile appeared on the girl’s face, and she began to talk to Tommy and pet his soft, black fur,” Wedlake says. “Her anxiety was gone. Everyone present had smiles — along with some tears — as they witnessed the interaction between patient and animal.”
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 Casey, Davis or a pet-assisted therapy team. Doctors can prescribe a visit. Nurses also can arrange one.
OHSU can accept more animal-assisted therapy teams. To apply, your pet must have a “complex” rating from Pet Partners, Dove Lewis or an equivalent organization. Learn about: