Four-Legged Employees Bring Out the Best in Patients and Families

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of the St. Louis Children’s Foundation Magazine. Learn more about how donors make a difference and how you can get involved at any level!

The bonds between kids and dogs have always been seen as strong. The St. Louis Children’s Hospital facility support dog program aims to provide assistance with coping and help reaching therapeutic goals while enhancing the experience of patients undergoing health care treatment at St. Louis Children’s.

St. Louis Children’s partnered with Duo Dogs, Inc. to receive a chocolate Labrador retriever named Duo Dog Casey, the first facility dog, in February 2020. Trained by Duo Dogs, a local nonprofit organization that places facility dogs to serve physically, psychologically or socially vulnerable populations, his timing was impeccable as the COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly after. Assigned to a team of handlers, Casey has been working five days per week to provide support to patients and staff since his arrival. Thanks to donor support from corporate partner Purina, Casey’s care, including insurance and health expenses, is covered, which is essential in ensuring he remains healthy and safe to support our patients.

Four-Legged Employees Bring Out the Best in Patients and FamiliesIn his first year, Casey participated in more than 1,000 patient visits, including supporting kids during procedures — IV placements, chest tube removals, vaccinations and more — and motivating them during therapy sessions. He was also present during difficult conversations with patients and provided much-needed support during end-of-life care.

It’s truly incredible to watch Casey’s impact on patients and families. For one patient, Casey was present through much of her journey to recovery. Casey first met her while she was in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). During the first meeting, the patient was intubated and sedated, but her mom let the care team know how comforting dogs were to her. The next day, Casey was present when she had the tube removed from her trachea and she placed her hand outside her bed to pet Casey’s head. This continued for several days until she was able to move more on her own.

Casey then moved to a motivational role. During one visit, the patient was practicing sitting at the edge of her bed with her physical therapy team. Casey encouraged her to move more than she had in the past few weeks. After the patient was transferred to another unit to continue her rehabilitation, Casey continued to be a scheduled part of her daily physical therapy sessions. Over time, she continued to be motivated by Casey’s presence — progressing from sitting to pet him to throwing a ball for him to fetch. She finally was able to walk with Casey around the entire unit while using her walker.

Duo Dog Opal joined the St. Louis Children’s facility support dog program in June 2021. She serves as a member of the Child Protection Program, a team of medical personnel who specialize in evaluating cases of suspected abuse or neglect. Opal visits with patients and caregivers and the team hopes she will help to improve attendance rates to the program’s outpatient clinic, which will only allow for more advocacy and care for children who are victims of suspected abuse or neglect.

She also spends extensive time in the pediatric behavioral health unit. Opal joins a daily morning meeting, where patients and staff set goals for the day. After that, she attends therapy sessions, where Opal goes from patient to patient. The therapy groups work on self-discovery, self-esteem and social interactions among other things. Patients consistently say her visits result in an increase in mood and less anxiety.

Thanks to Duo Dogs and Purina and their support of Casey and Opal, both dogs continue to make a positive impact on patient-centered care by providing support and encouragement to the patients and families at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.