HERSHEY, Pa. — Young patients at two of Penn State Health’s busy outpatient clinics will benefit from canine companionship thanks to an expansion of the health system’s facility dog program. A new facility dog and certified child life specialist who will serve as their handler will be based at the orthopedics and neurophysiology pediatric specialty clinics at 30 Hope Drive on the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center campus.
The new facility dog will become the fourth in a pack whose other three animals are a constant presence at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. In October 2016, Kaia joined the Child Life team, as the Children’s Hospital became the first in Pennsylvania to have a full-time facility dog on staff. Becky, another golden retriever, joined the team in 2018, and Pilot, a black golden retriever, landed last year to round out the trio that provides specific services to help children cope with major and minor hospital procedures. The team’s new canine partner will work with their handler to help pediatric patients receiving outpatient orthopedic, physical medicine, and rehabilitation and neurophysiology services.
The four-legged employees spend 40 hours on the job each week with their primary handlers, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks. The dogs also live with their primary handlers. All were raised and trained by Canine Assistants in Georgia, where they learned unique skills to work with kids at a children’s hospital or pediatric outpatient center, such as how to navigate hallways when walking next to wheelchairs and IV poles and gently resting next to a child who has experienced an injury, such as an amputation.
The expansion of the facility dog program is made possible in part by an $86,000 grant from PetSmart Charities. The grant will provide partial support for the new certified child life specialist, pet sheltering costs and supplies, and an on-site mobile dog groomer for all four of Penn State Health’s facility dogs.
“We are very grateful for PetSmart Charities’ generous support,” said Ashley Kane, manager of the Child Life Program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “We are constantly looking for opportunities to expand into new areas where therapeutic interventions with our facility dog teams will benefit our young patients and their families and advance our care teams’ goals. This financial support from PetSmart Charities will enable us to grow our program and provide comfort and healing to more children as they receive needed therapy and treatment.”
Certified Child Life Specialist Michelle Flynn joined the Child Life team in July 2021 and began working at 30 Hope Drive in January 2022. As the new facility dog’s handler, Flynn is establishing the Child Life presence in the outpatient practice in anticipation of the dog’s arrival in the fall. The fourth dog will be provided by the existing Kelso Facility Dog Endowment, which was established by an anonymous donor in honor of their dog, a Belgian Malinois named Kelso.
“PetSmart Charities is excited to partner with the Child Life Program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital to bring the healing powers of the human-animal bond to pediatric patients, families and staff in the outpatient setting,” said Kelly Balthazor, community grants manager at PetSmart Charities. “These specially trained animals bring comfort and cheer to patients’ loved ones, too.”
The funding from PetSmart Charities’ will enhance the facility dog program, which was started and is sustained by philanthropic contributions, and increase the number of animal-assisted therapeutic interventions to serve an additional 1,500 pediatric patients annually.
For more information on the facility dog program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, visit PennStateHealth.org/Childrens. For more information on PetSmart Charities, visit PetSmartCharities.org.
About Penn State Health
Penn State Health is a multihospital health system serving patients and communities across 29 counties in central Pennsylvania. The system includes Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and Penn State Cancer Institute based in Hershey; Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center in Enola; Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center in Camp Hill; Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading; and more than 3,000 physicians and direct care providers at more than 90 unique medical office locations. Additionally, the system jointly operates various health care providers, including Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Hershey Outpatient Surgery Center, Hershey Endoscopy Center and Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. In December 2017, Penn State Health partnered with Highmark Health to facilitate creation of a value-based, community care network in the region. Penn State Health shares an integrated strategic plan and operations with Penn State College of Medicine, the University’s medical school.
About the “Greater Penn State” Campaign
PetSmart Charities’ gift to support the facility dog program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.