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Hey Jude!

Hospital’s first facility dog brings children comfort and care.

Article Author: Melissa Seguin

Article Date:

Jude lays on the bed with a patient while his handler, Child Life specialist Kara Williams, CCLS, CTRS, kneels next to the bed.

Patients at Wolfson Children’s Hospital are benefiting from a new member of the Family Support Services care team, but this team member has four legs and a tail.

Jude, the hospital’s first facility dog and founding member of “Wolfie’s Woofpack,” works with Child Life Specialist Kara Williams, CCLS, CTRS, to provide therapeutic interventions for pediatric patients and bring a little joy to their hospital stay.

As a Child Life specialist, Williams’ role is to help kids understand what’s happening in the hospital and ease their fears through education, support and play. As a specially trained facility dog, Jude complements Williams’ efforts by reducing patient anxiety and motivating children to achieve clinical goals.

Jude is unique and not a member of the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Auxiliary’s Pet Therapy Program, which was established in 1995.

“The volunteer-run Pet Therapy Program is a wonderful comfort to our patients, providing them with a soothing, yet less frequent, visit filled with love and affection,” Williams explained. “Jude, on the other hand, works in the hospital with patients Monday through Friday and has been trained specifically to assist in service dog tasks such as providing a deep pressure comfort hold to alleviate anxiety or serving as an alternate focus during painful procedures.”

Expertly trained canine

Jude came to Wolfson Children’s Hospital from the nonprofit organization Canine Companions. As part of his two-year training, Jude underwent rigorous medical and temperamental screenings and passed several skills exams.

The pup was matched with Williams during a two-week “team training” session in Orlando. Williams worked with several dogs but knew Jude was the one very quickly.

“When you’re going through the matching process, the staff tell you that you won’t pick the dog, the dog will pick you,” said Williams. “I worked with roughly six dogs throughout the first three days, but it was quickly clear that Jude was the one, based on the connection we had when working together.”

While dogs from Canine Companions are expertly trained to work with a professional handler such as a Child Life specialist in a health care setting, they’re not specifically designated to work in any particular location. As a result, Jude had never been in a hospital until after graduation when he started at Wolfson Children’s in August 2023.

Jude knows over 40 commands, which help him assist patients in a variety of ways. Whether he’s rolling a ball back and forth with a toddler to improve motor function, motivating a teenager to walk around the unit, or just helping children ground themselves by focusing on the feel of his fur, Jude brings positivity and hope to the hallways wherever he goes. He can accompany patients to certain bedside procedures, such as IV placements, and is even trained to take “medicine” from a syringe in his mouth during a medical play session to help make needles seem less scary.

“Honestly, he does all the work. I just get to watch him interact with patients and give them the love and support they need,” said Williams. “It has been amazing to see the difference he makes in patients’ lives. They truly light up when he walks into the room.”

Building furry friendships

After Jude works with patients, Williams can provide a variety of mementos to commemorate their time together. Children receive a coloring page of Jude designed by Art with a Heart in Healthcare, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to arts and healing that includes artists working with Wolfson Children’s Hospital patients. With Williams’ help, Jude also “writes” thank you notes to children he has assisted, sending a message of love and gratitude directly from their newest furry friend.

When he finishes his daily shift, Jude heads home with Williams, who he lives with full-time. Williams is responsible for all of Jude’s personal care, including daily grooming and exercise, veterinarian visits and regular check-ins with the Canine Companions team. Being his handler is a lot of work, but she loves every second of it.

“Becoming a facility dog handler and building the Wolfie’s Woofpack Program has been a dream of mine for a while,” said Williams. “These dogs play such a vital role in the healing process and make such a significant impact on patients. Facility dogs can turn a sometimes-scary place into a safe place.”

Help us grow Wolfie’s Woofpack

To support Jude and the future of Wolfie’s Woofpack facility dog program, you can donate at go.baptistjax.com/WolfiesWoofpack. Your gift supports Jude’s veterinarian visits, required medications, food, grooming and other materials needed for working with hospitalized children and teens. Donations will also allow us to grow the Wolfie’s Woofpack program, bringing more facility dogs and handlers to Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

To learn more about the services provided by the Child Life Team at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, click here.

Reference: Canine Companions

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